Chad Billingsley sounded like a man who was just happy to be on the field Monday. At least, happy to be there and happy to be throwing strikes.
Billingsley didn’t really have a bad thing to say about his first appearance of the spring, even though his stat line said otherwise. The right-hander allowed five hits, two runs (both earned) and struck out one batter in two innings against the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs’ first four batters of the game hit a double, double, home run and single off Billingsley, putting the Dodgers in a 2-0 hole early in a 7-6 win.
But more importantly for the 28-year-old, he was pitching again and his elbow felt fine.
“It was good to be out there,” Billingsley said. “The first inning, I had a lot of adrenaline. It must have been forever since I last pitched in a game. It felt really good. Coming into today it was just throwing strikes, which I think I did pretty well.”
Actually, Billingsley hadn’t pitched since Aug. 24 of last year, when he was shelved by an injury to his right elbow. In the intervening six months, Billingsley was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, tried resting, tried throwing, then tried to come into spring training to prove he won’t need season-ending Tommy John surgery. He’s met every medical benchmark so far but Monday’s outing — lousy as it was on paper — was the most significant.
“Usually I have a little bit of adrenaline,” Billingsley said, “but today I had more than usual for the first game of spring training. Coming back, it felt great to be out there competing in a game situation.”
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that command is often elusive for pitchers coming back from long layoffs. That seemed to be the case in the first inning. In the second inning, Billingsley induced a strikeout, a popout, allowed a single to Alberto Gonzalez and got Luis Valbuena to fly out.
Billingsley said he only threw three pitches — a fastball, curveball and changeup, and that he was satisfied with all three.
“I was telling (Ramon) Castro our catcher, just stay on the plate,” Billingsley said. “It’s the first day out, you just want to throw strikes, get ahead in the count and keep pounding the zone. As spring training progresses you start pitching more.”