Though surgery is commonly performed, Billingsley is planning to discuss his options with team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache in the coming days before deciding on a course of action.
The prognosis for recovery from torn flexor tendon surgery varies greatly.
Among the more recent cases, then-Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Ben Sheets attempted to treat a torn flexor tendon with “rest and exercise and rehab” in 2008, before ultimately electing to have surgery in February 2009. He missed that entire season.
Texas Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis had surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in July 2012, missed the remainder of that season and all of 2013 before returning this season. He has made 11 starts for the Rangers this year.
Angels pitcher Sean Burnett had surgery to repair a small tear of his left flexor tendon in August 2013. He didn’t return to pitch for the Angels until May — only to require season-ending Tommy John surgery this month.
The MRI revealed that Billingsley’s transplanted UCL (he had Tommy John surgery in April of last year) is healthy. However, if recent history is any suggestion, surgery on his flexor tendon virtually ensures that his season is over.
That puts Billingsley in a tough spot. His contract expires at the end of the season. The Dodgers hold a club option for 2015, but at this point it seems more likely that the team will exercise its $3 million buyout clause.
Without Billingsley, Dodger starters rank third in the National League in earned-run average (3.25). Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu all have guaranteed contracts for next season. Dan Haren has a contract option for 2015 that vests if he pitches 180 innings. He’s pitched 80 innings through 13 starts this season and is on a pace to reach 180 innings some time in August.
Josh Beckett is the only member of the rotation who becomes a free agent at the end of the season. In a surprising resurgence at age 34, Beckett leads the Dodgers in earned-run average (2.35) and is still missing bats (70 strikeouts in 72 ⅔ innings). It would not be considered a surprise at this point if the Dodgers attempt to re-sign him.
Suddenly, it’s possible if not likely that the Dodgers will have no room for Billingsley in their 2015 rotation. That’s a strong incentive for Billingsley to look elsewhere for work if the Dodgers buy out his contract.
Taken by the Dodgers in the first round of the 2003 draft, Billingsley is 81-61 with a 3.65 ERA over parts of eight major-league seasons.
In his most recent rehab start Sunday for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, Billingsley faced 10 batters and recorded five outs.
Friday, Billingsley declined to speak to reporters through a club spokesperson until after he’s met with ElAttrache to determine his course of action.