Dodgers, Chad Billingsley, shouldn’t rush his return

Billingsley thin beard
Chad Billingsley could provide the Dodgers with a midseason pitching boost.

When the Dodgers signed Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena, if was a foregone conclusion the team would place Chad Billingsley on the 60-day disabled list to clear a 40-man roster spot for him.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the Dodgers designated Justin Sellers for assignment to make room for Arruebarrena. Sellers is no big loss, but the Dodgers not putting Billingsley on the 60-day DL is questionable. Some have even suggested Billingsley could be back in less than two months (before June), which would be awfully aggressive.

Almost everyone knew last year Billingsley was destined for Tommy John surgery. Mike broke it down pretty well. So here we are, just a little more than 10 months removed for Billingsley’s surgery, and it appears the Dodgers expect him back sooner, rather than later.

What’s the rush? I’ve always been of the opinion he’d be back around the All-Star break because there’s no reason to rush him back. The Dodgers have enough starting pitcher options outside of Billingsley — none of whom are better than he is — to survive until he’s 100 percent. If Matt Kemp is any example, the last thing the Dodgers need is a guy trying to come back too soon from a major injury.

Sure, the Dodgers are probably going to be without one of the myriad of starting pitcher options this season in Ross Stripling (seriously, his UCL is probably fubar, unfortunately), but guys like Josh Beckett, Stephen Fife, Zach Lee, Matt Magill and Paul Maholm are more than capable of providing decent starts every five days. The same can’t be said for Chris Reed, who gave up five hits and four runs in his 2014 Cactus League debut on Saturday. The Dodgers lost to the Brewers 6-5.

Billingsley threw curveballs today, and Eric Stephen of True Blue LA has some of the details.

“Chad Billingsley in a bullpen session on Saturday threw curve balls for the first time since his Tommy John surgery last April.

‘I had good spin on it. Just getting the feeling back and the release point. I definitely was rusty, but overall it was good,’ Billingsley said. ‘At this stage of the rehab, we’re really testing it, stressing the ligament a little more, building strength into it.’

In addition to his curve, Billingsley threw a fastball and changeup, and said he would mix in his cutter his next time out.”

I tend to overshoot things so I’m not disappointed when expectation aren’t met. Billingsley back at the All-Star break, Kemp back in May, etc. It’s a flaw, but it really isn’t the worst thing for these guys to be completely healthy before they come back and play Major League Baseball.

It seems Billingsley is ahead of (my) schedule, and some folks in the organization think Billingsley could be back sometime in May or June. I’ve always been a big Billingsley fan, and I just don’t want to see him do anything to jeopardize his career.

The Dodgers are going to have to make a couple of decisions about Billingsley. First, they have to decide his role when he comes back. While things could change dramatically by the time he returns, a bullpen role to ease him back into baseball could be best. He has experience throwing out of the bullpen, but hasn’t done so since 2007, when he made 23 relief appearances. Once he’s feeling good — and if there’s a spot available — he should go back in to the Dodger rotation.

Second, they have to determine what they’re going to do with him in the future. Billingsley is in the last year of a 3-year deal he signed before the 2011 season. He’s making $12 million this season and is due $14 million in 2015 on a club option. His buyout is $3 million, so it’s an $11 million decision the Dodgers will have to make. Obviously, they won’t have to make it until the offseason, but Billingsley — provided he’s “fixed” — can still be a quality pitcher in the majors. With the going rate of starting pitchers skyrocketing, the Dodgers could possibly trade him in the winter if his value is re-established. Or they could keep him — something that will be determined in eight or nine months. It will also impact the futures of Lee, Magill and Stripling.

This is a good problem for the Dodgers to have. It’s certainly better than not having enough quality pitchers.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.