It’s not every Opening Day that a Single-A baseball team gets an 80-game winner to start its first game of the season.
That will be the case Thursday, when Chad Billingsley takes the hill for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
Billingsley, one of four players on the Dodgers’ disabled list to start the season, said he hasn’t been given an innings limit for the start. That may still come, but the right-hander said he isn’t restricted in any way two weeks after he bruised the index finger on his right hand doing a bunting drill.
Updating our earlier item about Chad Billingsley‘s next start on March 28, the Dodgers haven’t determined where it will be.
It definitely won’t be in Anaheim. Manager Don Mattingly said Saturday that Hyun-Jin Ryu will start the “Freeway Series” opener against the Angels at 7 p.m.
There’s also a 6 p.m. split-squad exhibition game that night against the Single-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes at The Epicenter. That would be the logical place for Billingsley to start, but it would cause a minor inconvenience if the Dodgers decide to put the right-hander on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised index finger when the regular season begins.
If Billingsley pitches in Rancho he wouldn’t be able to start his potential disabled list stint until March 29 because the exhibition game has a paid attendance. That’s an MLB rule. If the DL is still a possibility for him in four days, Billingsley would pitch in a game without a paid attendance, such as a simulated game at Camelback Ranch.
Billingsley wouldn’t be eligible to come off the DL until April 13 if he starts against the Quakes.
Even though he was able to pitch 4 2/3 pain-free innings Saturday, Billingsley didn’t throw a curveball because he can’t throw a curve without pain. Last year Billingsley threw curves on less than 3 percent of his pitches, but Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that Billingsley “is going to need to have all his weapons” by the time he makes his first start of the season. Right now, that’s scheduled for April 2. If Billingsley goes on the DL, Ryu will make the start instead.
Speaking of Ryu, here are the projected Freeway Series matchups:
Thursday (in Anaheim): Ryu vs. Joe Blanton
Friday (in Los Angeles): Josh Beckett vs. Jason Vargas
Saturday (in Anaheim): Zack Greinke vs. Tommy Hanson
How good is Chad Billingsley without his curveball?
He was OK on Saturday afternoon in a Triple-A game against the Cleveland Indians at Camelback Ranch. Facing live hitters for the first time since he bruised the index finger on his right hand eight days ago, Billingsley threw 92 pitches in 4 2/3 innings, allowing four hits, two runs, walking four and striking out seven. He threw one wild pitch and no curves.
More importantly, Billingsley reported no discomfort after the start. Can he start against the San Francisco Giants 10 days from now?
“As long as there’s no setbacks, yeah,” Billingsley said. “I’m planning to be ready.”
Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley confirmed that he’ll pitch in a minor-league game Saturday at Camelback Ranch.
Billingsley bruised the index finger on his pitching hand six days ago in a bunting drill but came back to throw a pain-free bullpen session Wednesday. His last Cactus League start was March 7 against the Texas Rangers. His last start of any sort came in a five-inning simulated game against minor leaguers on March 13, when Billingsley threw 78 pitches.
Josh Beckett was scratched from his scheduled start Tuesday with the flu. Several Dodgers have been afflicted with the bug (Ted Lilly, Zack Greinke, Peter Moylan, Ramon Castro, Adrian Gonzalez) and Beckett’s doesn’t seem to be too bad. He was scheduled to throw on a back field Monday morning.
(Update: Beckett indeed threw a simulated game on the back field and reportedly passed the test with flying colors.)
In his place, Josh Wall will start against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers will likely use a combination of relievers, including some minor-leaguers, to fill out the innings behind Wall, who hasn’t pitched more than 1 ⅔ innings in a Cactus League game this spring.
Monday’s game, the third of spring training for the Dodgers, began at 1:06 p.m. The Dodgers’ second batter stepped into the batter’s box 18 minutes later.
That’s because the Dodgers’ first batter, Dee Gordon, led off the bottom of the first inning with a 17-pitch at-bat against Chicago Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva. (Gordon struck out looking.) In the top of the first, Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley allowed hits to the first four batters he faced and surrendered two runs. It had the makings of a long game from the outset and it was: Three hours, 25 minutes total.
The afternoon was probably more memorable if Vin Scully was narrating it — which he was, if you had a radio Monday.
Some less colorful takeaways:
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.
Sandy Koufax (second from left) was in his wheelhouse Friday morning: In the shadows of the bullpen mound, at a distance, at Camelback Ranch.
The man commanding the most attention at the Dodgers’ camp is also the least comfortable in the spotlight.
Through his work with the club’s pitchers, Sandy Koufax may prove himself to be a master mentor, Yoda and Mr. Miyagi rolled into one. But he’s never been one to embrace his celebrity. In that regard, this spring — even with Koufax donning a Dodger uniform for the first time in decades — is no different.
“It’s fun,” Koufax said during a brief media session Friday. “I’m having a good time. If I wasn’t having a good time, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Chad Billingsley gave an upbeat self-diagnosis on his right elbow when spring training began. One week later, he looks like the same pitcher, Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Tuesday.
“Chad, the ball’s coming out fine,” Honeycutt said. “He hasn’t missed any time other than just having a little bit of soreness in the calf from our running program. Arm-wise, it’s been very impressive.”
Billingsley hasn’t been limited in his throwing since spring began. Only two Dodgers pitchers have: Javy Guerra and Ted Lilly. Guerra had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder November 2. Lilly had the same procedure on his left shoulder Sept. 21.
“Ted, even though we’ve taken a little more conservative approach with his times on the mound,” Honeycutt said, “giving him two days in between — him and Javy Guerra — each time he’s been on the mound he’s been very good. Very solid.”
Maybe the biggest injury news is this: Kenley Jansen has been bothered by an ingrown toenail. Other than Scott Elbert, who had elbow surgery on Jan. 23 and is expected to miss opening day, the entire pitching staff is healthy one week into spring training. Knock on wood.
In a typical off-season, Aaron Harang said he’ll wait until mid-November to train for the upcoming season. After last season, he moved the plan up a month.
“This year I just decided to take some time to let my body recover — I didn’t go crazy. I did a lot of circuit-based training so it’s not as hard on the body.”
In circuit training, the participant moves from station to station, exercise to exercise, in a rapid fashion.
“I focused on trying to increase my strength from what I had in the past,” Harang said.
His training, combined with a new diet, allowed Harang to come into camp looking slimmer than he finished last season. He wouldn’t say how much weight he lost, but 10 pounds would be a conservative estimate.