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.
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.
If 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.”
Chad Billingsley has every reason to be optimistic.
After he was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last September, his next throw was limited to 50 mph on a closely monitored radar gun. Within months, gradually increasing his velocity and his number of throws, Billingsley was delivering pitches at 90 mph.
“You have these certain points where we’re going to test the ligament, testing our arm,” he said. “Each time I passed with flying colors.”
Forget having the best 1-2 starting combination in baseball. Ned Colletti clearly intended to put together the majors’ best 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 staff this winter.
When the Dodgers pitchers and catchers report to camp Tuesday, they present a puzzling situation that only time can solve. Chad Billingsley hopes time can heal the torn ligament in his elbow, not season-ending Tommy John surgery. Ted Lilly hopes he can pitch like a legitimate fifth starter, having not pitched in the majors since last May because of injuries. He, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang may have to hope that Colletti can find a desirable destination for their talents outside of L.A.
If healthy, it’s hard to imagine this group staying together. Otherwise, the Dodgers are left with the first eight-man rotation in major-league history, and wouldn’t that be an interesting outcome to what promises to be an interesting camp.
One of my favorite stats from 2012 was this: Eight major-league teams used 50 or more players last season. Most fell into the category of underachievers, or at least underdogs: Boston (56), Toronto (54), Chicago Cubs (53), San Diego (53), Baltimore (52), Houston (50), Oakland (50) …
… And then there were the Dodgers, clocking in at an even 50 players. It was a combination of trades and injuries that brought the Dodgers to 50, all of which factored into their falling short of the playoffs, and left several players hungry for a big bounceback in 2013.
Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Ted Lilly are coming back from surgery. Chad Billingsley is coming back from an injury, at least the team hopes. Juan Uribe is Juan Uribe.
Matt Kemp will have surgery on his left shoulder Friday and could be sidelined anywhere from six weeks to four months. The surgery will be performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache at the Kerlan Jobe Clinic.
If he misses four months, Kemp would be able to resume throwing and hitting in the first week of February 2013. That’s about three weeks before position players traditionally report for spring training. Kemp admitted he might not be ready to go from the start.
“Hopefully just clean (the shoulder) up,” Kemp said. “If they need to do more, they do more.”
Dodgers head athletic trainer Sue Falsone said that Kemp’s recovery time depends on the type of surgery. Debridement surgery is relatively minor and would allow Kemp to resume throwing 6 to 8 weeks afterward, while surgery to repair the torn labrum would require a four-month recovery period.
Kemp tore the labrum in his left shoulder when he crashed into the center-field wall at Coors Field wall on Aug. 28. He managed to play through the pain, hitting .367 with four home runs and nine RBIs in the season’s final eight games.
“If you MRI every guy out here,” Falsone said as the team fanned out around the field during batting practice, “eight out of 10 guys have a labral tear. It’s just a question of inflammation.”
Kemp said that his inflammation was bad enough that not having surgery wasn’t an option.
“It’s just something that needs to be done,” he said. “Of course I’m nervous. I’ve never had surgery before.” Continue reading →