LOS ANGELES -- Having the bases loaded with Dodgers and no outs in the second inning Tuesday was only a fraction of the pressure Reds starter Matt Belisle was facing. No bones about it, Belisle also knew his spot in the rotation was on the line. Belisle headed off would-be disaster by escaping with just two runs crossing the plate. Then he pitched masterfully the rest of the way.
It still wasn't enough. Chad Billingsley's seven scoreless innings silenced the lineup and trumped Belisle in a 4-1 Reds loss to Los Angeles. The Dodgers have taken the first two games of the three-game series from Cincinnati, which is 0-8 at Dodger Stadium since 2006. "Best I've ever seen him," Reds catcher David Ross said of Belisle. "He pitched really well. He had good command of the strike zone. He attacked. He threw excellent." Belisle (1-4) finished with three earned runs and seven hits -- all singles -- allowed over six-plus innings. There were no walks and he struck out three. At one point, he retired 13 in a row. Sure, Belisle had a good outing when nothing less would do. But he took no consolation in being a hard-luck loser. "It just still stings to not come out on top," Belisle said. "No matter what, we all know the bottom line is getting it done out here." A strange second inning provided a huge test for Belisle. It started when leadoff batter Jeff Kent rolled a single into left field and James Loney bounced a single over first baseman Joey Votto's head. Next was Matt Kemp, who hit a grounder to third base. Edwin Encarnacion made a nice pickup and fired to the plate. The ball went off of Ross' glove and rolled to the backstop. Kent scored on the play, and the Ross' error advanced the runners to second and third. "If I catch that ball, maybe it's a different outcome," Ross said. "I just didn't get down there with it." An infield single to the shortstop put the bases loaded with no outs. Billingsley hit an RBI single to right field and made it a 2-0 game. Pitching coach Dick Pole laid down his cards during a visit to the mound to settle Belisle. "The most simple way to put it is that he looked me square in the face and said, 'You need to step it up.' And I mean square in the face,'" Belisle said. Good meeting. Belisle escaped with a fielder's-choice force play to the plate and a groundout to first base. "I told him that was a great job of damage control," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "You want to get out of there with nothing. Invariably, if you try to do that, you end up giving up a whole bunch. That was an outstanding job of damage control, just holding them to two runs, especially after a couple of mishaps." Belisle retired a total of 13 in a row following the Billingsley hit. He didn't allow another hit until Loney singled with two outs in the sixth. "[Ross] was throwing them down, and I was letting it go," Belisle said. "They were swinging. It was a good rhythm." Pitching into the seventh for the first time this season, Belisle gave up a Chin-lung Hu single and was replaced by Bill Bray, who let that run and one more score. Coming in with a 7.45 ERA and four mostly poor starts, Belisle was facing the prospect of being moved out of the rotation, or worse -- a demotion to Triple-A. "I can be blunt. I need to step it up," Belisle said. "We talked and said dial it up a notch and pitch like it's your last time out and let's go." On the other end, there was no damage for Billingsley (4-5) to control against the Reds. The right-hander allowed just four singles. Only one runner -- Corey Patterson -- reached third base. But Patterson was left stranded when Brandon Phillips grounded into a double play. The only Reds run scored when Encarnacion hit a two-out RBI single that scored Adam Dunn in the ninth. "We didn't have a bunch of opportunities," Baker said. "The one opportunity we had to get back in the game, he threw a double play pitch. That was really about the only threat we had all night."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.