10/28/08 10:00 AM ET
Billings tosses no-no for Asheville
Rockies righty earns first MiLBY in second pro season
By Steve Conley / Special to MLB.com
Asheville's Billings earned the MiLBY for Class A's Best Single-Game Performer with his no-hitter against the Lakewood BlueClaws on July 22.
The 22-year-old right-hander struck out eight, issued a two-out walk in the first inning and committed an error in the ninth, falling two batters shy of a perfection in the 10-0 Tourists' win.
"Pitching a no-hitter has been a dream of mine ever since I was a Little Leaguer," Billings said. "What sticks out most in my mind about that day was the process. I reminded myself over and over during the game, 'If it's meant to be, it's meant to be.'"
Billings completed Asheville's first no-hitter since 2000 in front of 2,212 fans and thanked his teammates for their pivotal role in the historic feat.
"They played really well behind me, they were all over everything," he recalled. "During the game, no one sat or stood next to me. It was awesome. I just thought, 'Who cares about giving up a hit, just stick to the game plan.' I can only control what I do with the ball. After I throw it, it's not up to me anymore."
The no-no highlighted a season in which Billings went 9-11 with a 4.13 ERA in 27 starts. His 144 strikeouts ranked third in the South Atlantic League and his 161 1/3 innings were second-most on the circuit.
The Colorado Rockies' 30th-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft tossed two complete games this year. He also pitched a seven-inning five-hitter against Augusta on June 11, but was stuck with the loss in a 1-0 setback.
Billings matched a career high with 11 strikeouts over six frames in a no-decision against Lexington on Aug. 9. All told, he averaged eight strikeouts per nine innings and held opposing hitters to a .259 average.
"Besides my fastball, I'll throw a curve, slider and a change-up," he said. "I'm learning to really implement a two-seam fastball also. Those pitches all work best when I'm pounding my fastball wherever I want it."
Billings spent his first professional season with Class A Short-Season Tri-City of the Northwest League, going 4-2 with a 2.97 ERA in 15 starts. He led the league with 89 strikeouts, ranked second in ERA and third with 78 2/3 innings while holding hitters to a .208 average. The flame-thrower also averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
"My style is aggressive -- attack with the fastball," he said. "If I need to throw my other pitches, I do. I just go after hitters, in and out, up and down."
In two pro seasons, Billings has struck out 233 and walked only 58, a continuation of the numbers he put up during a stellar four-year career at San Diego State. He was a two-time All-Mountain West Conference selection for the Aztecs and received the league's Pitcher of the Year award in 2005 after going 6-5 with a 3.85 ERA and 112 strikeouts over 107 2/3 innings.
Despite the success he enjoyed in his first three years in college, however, Billings didn't have the type of senior campaign he had hoped for and was uncertain if baseball would be a part of his future.
"My senior year was full of expectations, but going into the season I didn't feel very confident in my stuff," said Billings, who finished 4-4 with a 4.48 ERA for San Diego State in '07.
"I had the work ethic, but I couldn't find the strike zone and my confidence wasn't great. We had a mediocre season and I had mediocre numbers. I was unsure of my future in baseball. Then the Rockies gave me a chance."
Billings hasn't looked back since.
"I looked at my first year as a season of opportunity," he said. "One of the draftees of my class didn't sign right away, and he was projected as the fifth starter for the short-season team. But since he wasn't there, we needed somebody to start the fifth game of the season. I told our pitching coach I could do it and he gave me the green light. I've been on a mission to prove I am here for a reason ever since."
The San Diego native has had plenty of guidance along the way, including his college pitching coach Rusty Filter and Aztecs head coach and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
"My pitching coach in college always pushed me to work everything off my fastball, so that's how I do things," Billings said. "Tony always told the pitchers to get strike one and control the at-bat."
Billings made sure not to leave out the biggest influence of them all.
"My father is truly my hero -- him and my mother," he said. "He was one of my coaches growing up. He told my brother and me to concentrate on school and baseball, never worry about money or getting a job until you have no more opportunities to reach your dream."
For Billings, those opportunities have only just begun.
Steve Conley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.