Daily Distractions: The Dodgers’ pitching depth could be worse.

Ted Lilly

Ted Lilly makes his 2013 debut today against the New York Mets. (Getty Images)

When Ted Lilly starts tonight, the Dodgers will have used eight starters in their first 20 games of the season. SI recaps how the Dodgers got there.

The eight-starter experiment was basically a big game of “what if”: What if Chad Billingsley‘s elbow doesn’t hold up? What if Ted Lilly isn’t the same pitcher he was pre-surgery? What if the best pitcher in Korea can be one of the best pitchers in the United States? What if he can’t?

Here’s another “what if”: What if the Dodgers hadn’t gone out and acquired Josh Beckett, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and entered this season with the same collection of starters they had a year ago?

Now you’re looking at Nathan Eovaldi stepping into the fifth starter’s job to replace Billingsley. Oh, wait. Eovaldi hasn’t pitched since spring training because of a shoulder issue. He’s on the 60-day disabled list (currently the Miami Marlins’ problem). Come on down, Stephen Fife.

After Fife, you’re looking at Allen Webster (who made his first major league start three days ago), Rubby De La Rosa (9.31 ERA for Boston’s Triple-A affiliate), Fernando Nieve, John Ely and perhaps Sandy Koufax as the next in line to start a game for the Dodgers.

You can thank your lucky Guggenheims that isn’t the case.

Some more bullet points for a Wednesday morning:
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Chad Billingsley to have Tommy John surgery tomorrow.

Chad BillingsleyChad Billingsley will undergo Tommy John surgery tomorrow, leaving the Dodgers without their fifth starter for the remainder of this season and likely part of 2014.

Team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache will perform the surgery at the Kerlan Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles.

Billingsley elected to undergo PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections and rehabilitation after partially tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last August. He pitched without pain throughout the winter and into spring training until he developed elbow pain during a bullpen session four days ago. An MRI confirmed an injury to the ligament.
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Dodgers recall Tim Federowicz and place Chris Capuano (calf) on the 15-day disabled list.

Chris Capuano

Chris Capuano collided with Jason Marquis and fell down covering first base in the first inning. He wasn’t injured on that play, but stayed in the game and strained his left calf muscle running to cover the bag in the second.

Chris Capuano was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday, ruling him out for the next time the Dodgers will need a fifth starter. That spot wouldn’t necessarily come up until the Dodgers’ April 27 home game against the Milwuakee Brewers, but manger Don Mattingly said he would like to use the fifth starter on April 24 at Citi Field against the New York Mets to give Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett an extra day between their next two starts.

Ted Lilly returned to the team one day after making a rehab start for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session in two days. He’s done making rehab starts and is poised to take the fifth turn in the rotation.

“If he slots in, everybody kind of gets an extra day,” Mattingly said. “We really like doing that.”

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Chris Capuano injury: How long will he be out, and will the Dodgers notice?

Chris Capuano

Chris Capuano collided with Jason Marquis and fell down covering first base in the first inning. He wasn’t injured on that play, but stayed in the game and strained his left calf muscle running to cover the bag in the second. (Associated Press photo)

It’s too soon to know how much time Chris Capuano will need to recover from his strained left calf muscle. It’s also too soon to know if the Dodgers will even notice he’s out.

That’s because they won’t need a fifth starter – Zack Greinke‘s old spot — until April 24, manager Don Mattingly said. The Dodgers have off-days Thursday and Monday.

Capuano came up lame covering first base on a ground ball by Yonder Alonso in the second inning of the Dodgers’ 9-2 loss to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday.

“I took two steps over toward first, felt my left calf strain,” he said.

ESPN has the video clip; you can see Capuano start hobbling around the 15-second mark.

“I came in after the inning, taped it up real tight, tried to brace that ankle,” Capuano said. “I felt like I could sit back on it and push of but it was pretty obvious I wasn’t driving off that leg the way I needed to. The ball just wasn’t coming out right. I wanted to stay out there. I knew we needed innings, but I think we made the right decision. It was hurting.”

Capuano said he’ll get an MRI exam on his left calf Thursday.

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Eric Stults vs. Chad Billingsley presents an intriguing Padres-Dodgers pitching matchup.

Chad Billingsley

It wasn’t that long ago that San Diego Padres left-hander Eric Stults started against his former team. On Sept. 4 of last year, Stults limited the Dodgers to seven hits and one run in six innings at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers wound up losing that game 6-3 in 11 innings when John Ely imploded (the first time) in his first major-league game of the season.

Afterward Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he’d seen enough soft-tossing left-handers for a season. “We’re kind of seeing the same guy and not making enough adjustments,” he said. Turns out that the Dodgers weren’t alone in their misery facing Stults, who went 3-1 over his final four starts of last year, including two wins over the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Stults shut out the Mets for five innings to win his only start of 2013. For a guy who was relegated to Japan after being cut by the Dodgers in 2009, it’s a nice little comeback.

Stults will be opposed by Chad Billingsley, who was officially activated from the 15-day disabled list prior to the game. Interesting to note that both pitchers broke into the majors with the Dodgers in the same year (2006). Billingsley would start 100 games over the next four seasons for the Dodgers. Stults started 24 during that same span before the teams parted ways.

Don’t forget, the game will not be on Prime Ticket tonight but you can still watch it on local cable.

Here are tonight’s full lineups:

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What’s the plan for Aaron Harang? Even the Dodgers’ pitcher isn’t sure.

Aaron HarangAaron Harang tried to remember the last time he regularly pitched out of the bullpen. He reached back and pulled out Oakland, “10 years ago. I was a rookie breaking in. I was the fifth guy. I’d fill in to start.”

Actually, the most relief appearances Harang has made in a single season was two, back in 2010 — Cincinnati, not Oakland. You can forgive the mental lapse. Of his 299 career games, Harang has started all but six. He is not looking forward to number seven.

“It’s not easy when you’re used to a set routine,” he said.

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Dodgers’ starting rotation watch drags into final week.

The Dodgers still have eight starters in camp, and all eight remain on a starter’s plan. Even Ted Lilly.

“We’ve had some conversations with guys, but at this point everyone is working as starters,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters in Glendale this afternoon. “Anything could happen. Until Opening Day we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve talked about the possibilities of it with guys just so psychologically guys could know where it sits. We’ve tried to prepare for that as much as possible.”

That the Dodgers are in no rush to get a look at Lilly, Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang as relievers is a strong indication that a trade or two (or three) will come soon.

Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang still starting for Dodgers. What does that mean for Ted Lilly?

Chris Capuano

Dodgers pitcher Chris Capuano threw 85 pitches on a back field Monday against a team of Cleveland Indians minor leaguers. He went seven innings, allowing three hits, no runs, striking out 11 batters and hitting another with a pitch.

The performance came on the same day that the Dodgers’ coaches were expected to meet to discuss plans for the pitching staff. There’s still a surplus of three starters with one week left before opening day. Aaron Harang is listed as the starter tomorrow against the Rockies. Capuano stretched himself out today. The only one of the octet that isn’t starting a game anytime soon appears to be Ted Lilly.

Lilly, as we’ve noted repeatedly, was the first Dodgers starter to raise his hand when asked if he’d accept a bullpen role. It could be that this is the direction the team is leaning. We’ll learn more tomorrow.

Dodgers coaches meeting tomorrow to discuss plans for pitching staff.

Chris Capuano

Don Mattingly said that the Dodgers’ coaching staff will meet tomorrow to discuss plans for their pitching staff. There appear to be two spots in the bullpen up for grabs, and the picture gained clarity when Mark Lowe was released this morning.

One topic that’s sure to be on the agenda: Which of the starting pitchers will become relievers?

The question has probably been answered within the organization. Now, with eight days left until Opening Day, the time has come to formally inform the Dodgers’ newest relief pitcher that he is the Dodgers’ newest relief pitcher.

“We’ll talk to those guys, make sure they can mentally start wrapping their arms around it, talk about ‘how would you like to work?’ … It’s nice to talk to the guys and get their arms wrapped around it so they can make the adjustment,” Mattingly said.

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