On April 6, 2014, Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley made his first rehab start with the Dodgers’ Advanced Single-A affiliate Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. It was his first appearance in an actual game since undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 24, 2013 – and it did not go well. After making what many described as a miracle recovery from the now popular procedure (especially of late), Billingsley suffered a setback – the apparent result of scar tissue breaking loose which, according to team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, is common in the recovery from Tommy John surgery.
After being shut down, the 29-year-old Defiance, OH native slowly and cautiously continued his comeback and, after two recent simulated games at Dodger Stadium, Billingsley was deemed ready to resume his rehab starts and was sent back out to Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday afternoon. This time his outing did go well… sort of.
After a three-pitch lead off strikeout, Billingsley allowed a double, a walk, a ground out, a second walk and a fly out to escape the inning without allowing a run. He didn’t fair quite as well in the second inning. After a strikeout and a fly out, Billingsley gave up a triple, hit a batter with a slow curveball and walked the next batter to load the bases – and Billingsley’s day was done after making his pre-arranged 30 pitches. He was relieved by Quakes right-hander Freddie Cabrera, who walked the first batter he faced, thus charging Billingsley with an earned run. Cabrera then got out of the inning without further damage.
Billingsley mixed up his pitches hitting 90-93 MPH with his fastball, 84-86 MPH with his change-up and throwing in an occasional Eephus-style slow curveball in the 68-74 MPH range. After his brief outing, Billingsley said that he was extremely happy with the results.
“It definitely felt good to get back out there, a little rough, a little hot,” said Billingsley in the Quakes clubhouse after exiting the game. “It felt good to get back out there competing and working on things and working my way back.”
Billingsley said that he treated the outing like an early spring training game and wasn’t concerned about velocity, he simply wanted to try some of his pitches and come away in one piece.
“I’m not really too worried about velocity right now, just being healthy is what I’m trying to do,” said Billingsley. “Back in April I didn’t make it out of the second inning, I felt a pop and stuff like that, but today I was able to complete the 30 pitches. Hopefully I’ll recover well tomorrow, I’m a little tired right now but that’s to be expected.”
Billingsley said that because the Dodgers are currently on the road, he will head over to Camelback Ranch in Arizona for a few days to continue working out and will re-join the Quakes on Friday night to make another start against the JetHawks in Lancaster. He added that there is no timetable for his return to the Dodgers.
“Right now I’m very happy I made it out of the day healthy and was able to throw and feel fine,” said Billingsley. “Next time out get past that, and then after that just going start by start right now.”
Billingsley, who is in the final year of a three-year/$35 million contract with a $14 million club option for 2015 (or a $3 million buyout), hopes to return to the Dodgers starting rotation sometime within the next month. The problem, of course, is that there currently isn’t a spot for him in the rotation and he may end up in the Dodgers bullpen until a starting spot opens up.
Where things begin to get sticky is with that $14 million club option for 2015. If there isn’t a spot for Billingsley in the starting rotation, do the Dodgers really want to add another multi-million dollar contract to a bullpen that is already full of them? Then again, if Chad returns to the dominant hard-throwing starter that he once was, that $14 million option would be a steal.
All of that aside (for now, at least), Billingsley figures to make at least three or four more rehab starts before even being considered to return to the Dodgers 25-man roster which, of course, will require a corresponding roster move.