Last year, you may remember, the Dodgers used nine different starting pitchers in their first 23 games. Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, Zack Greinke, and Josh Beckett were the original foursome, joined by Chad Billingsley the second time through. From there, it was something like a comedy of errors. Carlos Quentin broke Greinke, so Chris Capuano become starter No. 6, but immediately injured his calf. In game 18, Stephen Fife appeared in place of Billingsley, who had blown out his elbow. Two days later, Ted Lilly showed up as starter No. 8. Then Fife’s shoulder started barking, and we found ourselves watching Matt Magill, starter No. 9, making his debut against the Brewers on April 27.
It’s not quite so bad as that this year, but then again, we’re only seven games into the season. Five pitchers have started for the Dodgers, and when Greinke takes the mound tonight, he’ll be the first Dodger starter to start more than once other than Ryu, who has gone three times already. Kershaw started the opener in Australia, but is out for weeks or more with his strained back muscle. Beckett is now on his third different injury — thoracic outlet surgery last year, then a bruised thumb in camp, and now a sprained ankle attempting to field a bunt in his rehab start — since he last pitched in a game that counted, and Paul Maholm looked lousy yesterday.
So, where do we stand with this rotation?
We know two things: 1) that Greinke is starting tonight against Matt Cain, and 2) that the seemingly ludicrous amount of early season days off are a godsend right now. Tomorrow is yet another day off, and then Dan Haren starts against Detroit on Tuesday. After that, well, that’s where it gets dicey. That’s Ryu’s regular turn, but after his heavy early usage (and how badly he looked against the Giants on Friday), the team had hoped to give him an extra two days (Thursday is yet another day off), planning to use Beckett. But now that Beckett’s ankle is a concern, imperiling his planned bullpen session today, he might not be an option. (Not that he looked good before getting hurt in Rancho anyway, allowing two homers, one to Elliot Blair, a 46th-round pick in 2011 with a .240/.342/.360 line in parts of four seasons.)
So the Dodgers could forgo Ryu’s extra rest, or they could push Beckett, or they could dip into the minors, where Magill would be on regular rest for Wednesday. Of course, we all remember how rough Magill looked last season, and facing Miguel Cabrera and friends isn’t exactly the situation any of us want to see him in.
The good news, if there is any, is this: Billingsley makes his first rehab start today, and by all accounts, his journey back has been outstanding so far. His fastball in batting practice has been around 92 MPH, and he’s thrown breaking pitches. That’s not the same as being in real games, but it does mean he could be back in early May.
Where the Dodgers will be by then, and if he’ll beat Kershaw back — as now seems likely — remains an open question. But with no other starters currently on the 40-man roster, and Zach Lee having yet to even make his Triple-A debut (which he will do today), it seems like what we see is what we’ll get for the time being. I doubt any of us expected that to possibly include Magill two weeks earlier than it did last year.