Ted Lilly would rather relieve for the Dodgers than start somewhere else.

Ted  LillyIf Don Mattingly decides to resolve his eight-starter dilemma by asking for volunteers to move to the bullpen, Ted Lilly might be the first to raise his hand.

“I want to be a part of what’s going on here first and foremost,” Lilly said Tuesday, when the Dodgers’ pitchers and catchers reported to Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona. “I feel like I’m capable of being a successful starter. … The objective’s still the same: Get the hitter out. You make pitches, pitch well, and it kind of defines your role.

“I would prefer [pitching out of the bullpen here] other than go somewhere else and start, yes, but I would like to start.”

At 37, Lilly is the elder statesmen among the Dodgers’ eight starters and will make more this season ($13.2 million) than all but Josh Beckett and Zack Greinke. Between that and his recent injury history – Lilly hasn’t pitched since May 23 of last year and had shoulder surgery in September – he’s arguably the least tradeable among the eight.

For that reason, Lilly may need to be flexible.

But he’s also competitive, and was welcoming of the challenge presented by the Dodgers’ current numbers game.

“There’s no question, as I should, I’m going to have to earn a spot here,” he said. “We’re going to do something, I imagine. There’s five spots in a rotation, we’ve got eight starters. That should only make our club better.”

Lilly said he’s fully recovered from the surgery and only  “maybe a little bit behind” where he would normally be at this stage in his off-season throwing.

“The first two months afterwards, I was at a point where I was hoping it would come along a little faster. I was having a hard time,” he said. “Then the last month or so – month and a half, really – I’ve had no issues.”

Like Chad Billingsley, Lilly won’t be restricted because of any injury concerns. Perhaps more than any of the starters on the bubble, Lilly is using last season as motivation to earn a roster spot.

“I could say (2012 was) probably the toughest year of my career in that regard – sitting and watching, trying to come back, being disappointed when I had a good day, go out and throw, then the next day my arm wouldn’t respond,” he said. “It was the most frustrating year of my career in that regard.”

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About J.P. Hoornstra

J.P. Hoornstra covers the Dodgers, Angels and Major League Baseball for the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, San Bernardino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Whittier Daily News and Redlands Daily Facts. Before taking the beat in 2012, J.P. covered the NHL for four years. UCLA gave him a degree once upon a time; when he graduated on schedule, he missed getting Arnold Schwarzenegger's autograph on his diploma by five months.