Dodger left-hander Ted Lilly is a nice guy and you would probably have a difficult time finding anyone who disagrees with this, especially his teammates and coaches. But as we all know, it takes a lot more than just being a nice guy to be successful in the MLB, and any way you slice it, Ted Lilly is no longer successful. In fact, he hasn’t been successful in nearly a year.
Lilly was acquired by the Dodgers in a trade with the Chicago Cubs at the July 31 trade deadline in 2010 – the trade that sent Blake DeWitt to the Cubs. Lilly ended up being quite successful for the Dodgers, going 7-4 in his twelve starts and he ended the season with an impressive 3.52 ERA – impressive enough for Ned Colletti to sign him to a 3-year/$33 million contract extension.
Lilly attended his first spring training with the Dodgers in 2011 and immediately fell behind the rest of the pack because of flu-like symptoms. And though he eventually caught up and broke camp as the Dodgers’ number three starter, he finished the 2011 season with a less than stellar 12-14 record. At one point during the season, Lilly and Dodger slugger Matt Kemp were neck-in-neck in the race to 30-30 (home runs and stolen bases); the difference, of course, was that Kemp was getting them and Lilly was giving them up. Lilly’s team-high 28 home runs allowed inspired Dodger fans seated in Left Field Pavilion to wear Dodger Blue hard hats on the nights that he pitched – in jest, of course.
In his second spring training with the Dodgers in 2012, Lilly developed a sore neck and started the season on the DL. He made his first start on April 14, and a great start it was. In fact, five of his first eight starts were great starts and he soon became the team’s best starting pitcher with a 5-1 record and an excellent 3.14 ERA.
Just when it looked as though Ned Colletti had made the greatest $33 million signing in the history of the game, Lilly felt a pain in his left shoulder during his May 24 start and was immediately shut down. After spending almost two months on the DL, Lilly made several re-hab starts with the Advanced Single-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, but every time it appeared that he might return to the Dodgers starting rotation, he would suffer another setback and was shut down again… and again… and again. And though no one knew it at the time, that May 24 start with the Dodgers would be his last of the 2012 season. On September 21, Lilly underwent shoulder surgery.
With Lilly’s future uncertain, along with that of Chad Billingsley, who suffered a partial tear of the ACL in his right elbow, Colletti acquired left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu and right-hander Zack Greinke during the off-season because in Colletti’s words, “You can never have too much starting pitching.”
In his third spring training with this Dodgers (the current one), Lilly claims that he has fully recovered from his surgery and according to Dodger manager Don Mattingly, Lilly is doing normal workouts with the team but is given an extra day off each week to make sure he is fully recovered. And just when things started looking up for Ted, he once again fell victim to flu-like symptoms, forcing him to miss two scheduled starts. Lilly did throw a bullpen sessions last week and also pitched in a minor league B-game, and from what Mattingly saw, he felt that Lilly was ready to make another spring training start, which he did on Sunday against the Diamondbacks.
In the two innings that he pitched, Lilly faced 14 batters (five in the top of the 3rd without recording an out), allowed 5 runs on 5 hits, walked three, and struck out 2. The respectable 3.86 ERA that Lilly had entered the game with had soared to a dismal 9.45 – this in 6.2 total spring training innings pitched.
With no room in the starting rotation and with an already crowded Dodger bullpen, there really isn’t anyplace for Lilly and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him begin the 2013 season on the disabled list for one reason or another, perhaps even one of those mystery injuries. But in reality, perhaps it is time for Ted to do some soul-searching and do what would be best for himself, for his family and for his team – embrace his very respectable 130-111 career record and honorably pass the torch to the next generation of Dodgers.
Perhaps it’s time, Ted.