Mark Langill – The Big Debut
There is natural curiosity this morning surrounding Chad Billingsley as the top rookie prospect prepares to make his Major League debut against the Padres in San Diego. In mid-June, the question is whether the right-hander is ready to join the Dodger rotation on a full-time basis. Billingsley, who turns 22 on July 29, was the Dodgers’ first-round selection (24th overall) in the June 2003 First-Year Player Draft.
Since the amateur draft began in 1965, the Dodgers have made a pitcher their top selection on 19 occasions, including left-hander Scott Elbert (2004), currently pitching for the Dodgers’ Single-A Vero Beach affiliate; and recent first-round draft choice Clayton Kershaw.
Billingsley becomes the sixth pitcher from that group to reach the Majors, joining Rick Rhoden (drafted in 1971), Rick Sutcliffe (1974), Bob Welch (1977), Steve Howe (1979) and Darren Dreifort (1993). And Billingsley becomes only the second pitcher to make his debut as a starting pitcher.
The other was Sutcliffe, who pitched five scoreless innings and received a no-decision in a 1-0 victory against the Houston Astros on Sept. 29, 1976. That game marked the managerial debut for Tommy Lasorda, a third-base coach who took over the ballclub when Walter Alston announced his retirement two days earlier after 23 seasons.
While the spotlight was on Lasorda, there was no pressure on Sutcliffe that evening as the second-place Dodgers already were eliminated from the pennant race and trailed Cincinnati by 10 games in the National League West. Sutcliffe returned to the minor leagues in 1977, appeared in two games in 1978 and resurfaced in 1979, winning Rookie of the Year honors with a 17-10 record.