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Is ultimate greatness for Billingsley a mental game?

Billingsley Mental toughness.

There’s a term you’d think would make Chad Billingsley cringe. Like it’s the big hole in his resume, the void still to be filled.

They praise his stuff. Exalt his curve. Appreciate his power. And then too often, question if he is mentally tough enough to put it all together and achieve greatness.

To become an ace. A stopper the Dodgers’ rotation currently lacks.

He has the stuff, but can he bring the attitude? Be unflinching in adversity? Not only rise to the challenge, but welcome it. Snare at it.

I mentioned the mental toughness question to Billingsley, and he said, "What do you mean?"

Like it was a foreign concept. So I explained, tactfully as I could.

"I don’t think it’s any issue or problem," Billingsley said. "Every time I step out on the mound, I’m doing whatever’s possible to win a baseball game.’’
This are three reasons why, despite his noticeable success the past four seasons, some are concerned he’s a tad too fragile mentally to ever achieve his full potential:

He has an easygoing demeanor and is as nice a person as you would hope to know; he failed to return inside pitches in the National League Championship Series against the Phillies two years ago; and after starting last season so well before the All-Star break (9-4, 3.38 ERA), he pitched poorly in the second half (3-7, 5.20 ERA).

So is it possible he’s too timid to be great? Can he find his inner Don Drysdale? Does he have the drive to reach the next level?

Billingsley said he has lofty goals and the will to achieve them.

"I want to win a Cy Young, or however many I can," he said. "Win a World Series. The Hall of Fame. And have a healthy career. I want to be the best I can in this career. You want to walk away from the game knowing you did everything you could to be the best you could be.

"I’ve had a pretty solid couple of years, but I plan to do better. Win 20 games, pitch 200 innings. I have goals I want to achieve.’’

Billingsley said he knows there are mini-steps to take along the way, but is confident he’s headed in the right direction.

He’s buoyed by a healthy offseason. Last year he fractured his ankle after slipping on ice back home in Pennsylvania in November.

"This offseason I was able to keep my routine as far as working out and throwing,’’ he said. "I was able to come in shape.

"I didn’t really get after it last year until January. This past year, I started in November.’’

The Dodgers don’t have an ace in their rotation they can count on every five days, or more importantly, to make a pair of big starts in a postseason series.

They failed to acquire that starter in the offseason, and are now hoping either Clayton Kershaw, 22, or Billingsley, 25, can evolve into that pitcher.

Billingsley has certainly shown that ability for long stretches. Now many will watch, waiting for him to prove he has the mental toughness to take it to the next level.

-- Steve Dilbeck, in Phoenix

Photo: Chad Billingsley. Credit: Danny Moloshok / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (11)

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In the mental toughness department, Barbara brings to mind Khalil Greene, who, by the way, can be had within our beloved Dodgers' budget. Let's convert him to a SP! What are you waiting for, Ned?

Great post, Steve, and I'm glad you put the question of Billingsley's toughness to him, directly.

Once, when I was doing some significant research, I asked the subject of my study, a public figure, "Why have you failed?"

On one level it's an unfair, impossible question to answer, because who can tap into his own motivations and admit to a tragic flaw? Yet it should be asked; it begs to be answered.

In my subject's case, he altered his career after our chat, and modesty aside, world events were affected.

Now, you're injected into Billngsley's story and the arc of his career. He'll buck-up or fold, perhaps a little faster.

He'll do his job differently, thanks to the fact that as a journalist, you did yours.

Again, thanks.

Chad had to fight his way through the second half last season. He did that with outstanding character, at a time when things weren't going so well. This is just stereotypical nonsense.... ( stereotyping is always the best guess.)Sure he may have had some struggles, although at a young age. He will mature nicely, in my opinion and regroup this season. Carpe Deim, Bills!!

I think Bills needs to focus on forcing the hitters to adjust to his game, rather than adjusting himself to theirs. I think many of the games best pitchers go to the mound with this attitude, that whomever the hitter is needs to beat his stuff. I truly think Bills can be a successful pitcher and only hope that the organization has more patience than most of the fans seem to.

Interesting that Bills doesn't see (or doesn't want to admit in public) that there is any issue with his mental toughness. This really does seem to be the one issue that is holding him back from moving from very good to great.

Very good stuff, and I'm not just talking about Billingsley's was a very good post. This was the best line: Can he find his inner Don Drysdale? Well, if he does, the Dodgers just might have themselves an ace this season.

I think the "mental toughness question" about Billingsley is utterly meaningless, nothing more than the armchair analysis of sportswriters and fans looking for a storyline to explain why Billingsley hasn't been able to take his game to the next level. Nobody really has any idea what he goes through mentally, or why he so far hasn't been able to become the top-tier pitcher many of us hope he is capable of being. But I am somewhat re-assured by his non-response to the fan/sportswriter-driven question over his "mental toughness." I read that as a sign that he isn't internalizing this rather lame and contrived narrative.

"Mental Toughness"? Who are we to judge if he has this mental toughness? Nobody knows what goes on in his mind in between pitches. You make it sound so easy, to become a great starting pitcher in the major leagues. I doubt it was a breeze to become an All Star last year. Where can I find this gravy train?

Glad you had the "toughness" to ask Bills about his, Steve! ;) I like your predecessor's blog a lot, but Billingsley became a sacred cow- questioning his toughness seemed to be interpretted as a challenge to his manhood. Many staunch Billingsley defenders on the web seem to feel this way. Mention his poor pitching in Philadelphia, and you get an instant reaction on how good he was against the Cubs. Part of this, I think, was an understandable counterpunch to the assault on Billingsley last year when the Dodgers didn't have an "ace". A lot of people, particularly journalists, treated Billingsley as damaged goods- and that was BEFORE his slump. Some attributed his slump to his injuries, but the fact that his mechanics were messed up afterwards is on him.

My own opinion, for whatever it's worth- Billingsley is a good (sometimes great) pitcher with TREMENDOUS stuff, by most accounts a nice guy, but DOES need to get tougher- at least, relative to his Major League competition. I am cautiously optimistic that he'll get there, but he isn't there yet.

If I want to pinpoint the reason the Dodgers didn't go all the way last year, I'd say it was Billingsley, he was the missing link when the the Dodgers needed that finishing kick.
Like I said recently, maybe he has to talk to someone who can help.
Maybe he should take his head out of the future and start concentrating on the hear and now.

It's funny how when Padilla and Kershaw were hit hard by the Phils in the 2009 NLCS, their mental toughness was not brought into question. Brad Penny had some great first halves, followed by less than mediocre second halves. I guess if you scowl like Pad or Brad, then you have more fortitude. Huh?

Just because Billingsley is a genuinely nice person, doesn't mean he lacks guts. He had a couple of hamstring injuries during the season, along with the broken leg during that offseason. Name a Dodger pitcher who hasn't had a meltdown against the Phils.


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