Notes: Gonzalez in 'defensive funk'
Bigger role eyed for Billingsley; Valdez, Lieberthal get starts
SAN FRANCISCO -- Luis Gonzalez is one of the most approachable, personable, go-to veterans in baseball, even when he's on the hot seat, as he was Saturday.The subject was his defense, which has come under much scrutiny during the first week of the season. "I'm embarrassed this week," said Gonzalez, who drew an error Friday night for dropping Barry Bonds' slicing fly ball after making a long run from left-center. "I'm in a defensive funk. I'm tentative now, but I'll be all right. I've been playing a long time. I haven't lasted 17 years by being a bad defensive player. "Look, everybody knows I don't have the strongest throwing arm. But if you're going to analyze every play, you might as well camp out here at my locker. Teams are going to run on me, it's going to happen a lot." Opposing scouting reports are no secret in that teams will run on the throwing arm of Gonzalez, as well as center fielder Juan Pierre. Friday night, however, it was their ball-chasing and ball-catching that caused trouble. In addition to Gonzalez's error, Pierre's uncertain route to Rich Aurilia's wind-blown fly ball resulted in a double on a high fly that needed to be caught and led to the only Giants run off Brad Penny. Gonzalez was due up in the bottom of the eighth inning, but chances are manager Grady Little will be going to defensive replacement Brady Clark earlier when the Dodgers are ahead. On Saturday, however, he was defending Gonzalez's defense. "I think you're looking at the first week of the season," he said. "I know it's going to be better than we're seeing the first few games. The guy's been out there a long time and he's been productive and he will be better than what we've seen, I'm sure." Billingsley's role: When Chad Billingsley was sent to the bullpen in Spring Training, the early indications were for a long relief role. But Friday night, in the seventh inning with a one-run Dodgers lead, Billingsley was warming up alongside situational left-hander Joe Beimel. Billingsley had been a starter almost his entire professional career, but Little had no doubt that Billingsley could handle the transition to relief. Now Billingsley seems to be sliding toward the latter part of games, previously the domain of Takashi Saito, Jonathan Broxton and Beimel. "He hasn't given us any reason not to," said pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. "What opened our eyes was the inning he pitched in the playoffs, just the way he took to that whole situation. And there was a game in Spring Training when we brought him in the ninth inning." The playoff situation was Game 2, the Dodgers trailing, 4-0, in the seventh inning, the heart of the Mets' batting order coming up. Billingsley struck out Carlos Beltran swinging, Carlos Delgado looking and got David Wright on a grounder. The Spring Training game was March 23 against Florida, when the Dodgers used Beimel, Saito, Broxton and Billingsley over the final four innings. Billingsley, whose maximum-effort style is well suited to one inning of all-out hard stuff, again got two strikeouts and a grounder. Lineup changes: For Saturday's day game following a night game, Little started Wilson Valdez at shortstop to rest Ramon Martinez and Mike Lieberthal at catcher to rest Russell Martin. Martinez has played a smooth shortstop in place of Rafael Furcal, sidelined for a third week with a sprained ankle and apparently not returning any time soon. "We're still hoping," Little said. "Ramon and Wilson are good defensive shortstops. We do miss Raffy's production at the top of the lineup. But we all saw what took place last season when Raffy tried to start out and he wasn't 100 percent [after knee surgery and a sore shoulder] and it affected him for a month and, in turn, the whole club. We'll try to prevent that from happening." Penny not just power: In most of Penny's best games as a Dodger, he overpowered opponents with heat. Honeycutt said what was most impressive about his seven innings Friday night was Penny's willingness to pitch and not just throw, leading to 13 ground-ball outs with only one strikeout. "He pitched [Friday] night," said Honeycutt. "Maybe not having his great fastball showed him he has the ability to pitch. You can't have your best stuff every night. But you can still pitch. He had confidence in his other weapons. He threw the breaking ball for strikes and used the splitter. Russell called a great game and he went off him. When Brad can throw other pitches in fastball counts and keep the hitters off-balance, that's huge." Coming up: Randy Wolf gets his first personal taste of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry when he starts Sunday against new Giants ace Barry Zito in the series finale.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.