The Dodgers play game two of their series with the Padres, facing old mate Eric Stults, tonight at 7:10 p.m. in San Diego. There Chad Billingsley will try to come back from not one, but two injuries. One major, one minor.
Billinglsey bruised a finger in a routine Spring Training bunting drill March 15, which while not serious, limited his ability to throw the curveball. He was placed on the disabled list to begin the season, had an uneventful rehab outing in minor league Rancho Cucamonga last Thursday, and takes his place in the Dodgers' rotation tonight.
More importantly — much more importantly — Bills is trying to come back from something few starters before him have done successfully: return to pitch effectively and long term with a partially-torn elbow, which usually requires Tommy John surgery.
The injury occurred — or surfaced, might be a better way to put it — during Billingsley's final start of 2012, on August 24. Coming off a month of his best work in quite some time, Bills decided to pass on surgery late last season, and the required year or so on the shelf, opting for a platelet-rich plasma injection and a winter-long rehab instead.
By all accounts — Billingsley's and the Dodgers' accounts — the right-hander is healthy and ready to go. I'm concerned, however. Skeptical, actually.
As amazing a scientific accomplishment as PRP is — and it is — smartest-man-in-the-room kind of thing, there are no guarantees of anything more than the postponing of Tommy John. Avoiding it all together? Doubtful.
So maybe Bills goes out and mows down the Padres, as he often does, especially at Petco Park, and maybe he throws hard and comfortably for the month of April. Maybe May and June too, winning a bunch of games. Maybe even an All-Star Game appearance.
But that scenario is far from a given, and even then he won't have cleared every hurdle.
There really is no clearing of every hurdle. It's just about getting through the year, and worrying about 2014 later. His season could end literally at any time, with an appointment for the operating table scheduled the next day.
With Aaron Harang out of the equation, Los Angeles has capable Chris Capuano in the bullpen eager if needed, less-capable Ted Lilly attempting a comeback of his own while rehabbing in the minors, and last year's surprise fill-in Stephen Fife, also pitching in the minors, as fallbacks.
How it all shakes out is anyone's guess. For the moment, L.A. just wants wins, and secondarily a positive showing from Billingsley. If he gives them six innings, makes 90 or so pitches while allowing three runs or less, the Dodgers will be ecstatic.