Well, life is full of surprises. And life is also full of “I figured as much.” Such is the case with Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Chad Billingsley.
The Dodgers announced Tuesday that Billingsley will undergo the dreaded elbow operation known as Tommy John surgery and is out of action for at least a calendar year. Dodgers fan may be disappointed by the news, especially with Zack Greinke lost for a prolonged time frame, but they almost were expecting it.
Billingsley was shut down last August when his elbow became inflamed. Talk of Tommy John surgery reared it’s ugly head for a couple of months but the swelling subsided. Instead of an operation, the team physician embarked upon a not-quite-proven treatment of platelet-rich plasma injections into the arm. As spring training opened, Billingsley said the elbow felt fine and that he could start the season. When Billingsley didn’t open the season on the active roster due to an injured finger, many wondered if the elbow was indeed acting up again.
He returned for a start on April 10th and pitched well in a win over the Padres. Days after his second start on April 15th, Billingsley said he was experiencing arm pain again. Sure enough, this time it was the elbow and surgery became the only option.
If ever a Dodger player had a Bell curve-like rise and fall, it was Billingsley. He made his major league debut in June of 2006 and started out slowly losing his first two decisions. But over the last two months of the season, he won five of his last six decisions and the Dodgers won seven of the last nine games he started.
The Dodgers began 2007 with somewhat of an overloaded rotation that included Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, and Jason Schmidt. Billingsley ended up in the bullpen. Schmidt would then suffer what pretty much amounted to be a career ending arm injury and by July, the then 22-year old Billingsley was an integral part of the rotation. He ended the season 12-5 and in 2008, went 16-10 with a 3.14 ERA and pitched 200 innings. The Dodgers were so high on him, they let Lowe and Penny walk after the season ended. Billingsley was more or less handed the “ace” role.
Billingsley began 2009 going 9-3 and earned a slot on the All-Star team. The world seemed to be his. After all, he had amassed a career record of 44-23 up to that point and, along with his blonde “trophy-like” wife Tiffany, was heavily involved in local charities. He was being painted as the All-American superstar. Then, suddenly, it all went south.
He went 3-7 after the break and wasn’t named to the postseason rotation after the Dodgers clinched the NL West. Over the next three seasons, Billingsley compiled a somewhat pedestrian 33-31 record. Every time the word trade was uttered by the Dodgers, Billingsley’s name was always in the conversation.
Last season, Billingsley was struggling along at 4-9 through mid-July. Then, out of nowhere, the one-time budding superstar rose like a Phoenix from the ashes. He ran off six straight wins and looked as though he would become firmly ensconced as the number two guy behind Clayton Kershaw. Unfortunately, the elbow flared up and he was shut down for the season at the end of August. The rest is current history.
Veteran Ted Lilly, attempting to come back from a shoulder injury that has seen him sidelined since last May, will take Billingsley’s spot in the rotation. The question is what is next for a rotation that has failed to become the powerhouse it appeared to be on paper.
Zach Lee, the Dodgers 2010 first round draft pick, is doing pretty good at Double A and could move up. As far as other veteran starters, the usual suspect these days seems to be Bud Norris of the Astros. Recently, the team stated he isn’t going anywhere but Houston has nothing in the way of a plan right now so I don’t see that statement being very firm. Miami is a joke so with pitcher Ricky Nolasco becoming a free agent after this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he isn’t long for a Marlins uniform. The Orioles have reportedly run out of patience with Jake Arrieta and the Cubs Matt Garza, if he gets healthy, will probably make his annual appearance on the trade wire.
And now the flying Ellis’
Talk about the unexpected.
After the Dodgers acquired stars like Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and signed Zack Greinke, the Ellis boys, catcher A.J. and second baseman Mark, were somewhat forgotten men. They were looked upon as simply the warm bodies to take a few swings until the big boys could roll into action. So guess who the big boys are now?
Through Wednesday, Mark was batting .342 and has hit safely in six of his last seven games, including a four hit, two home performance against the Mets on Tuesday. It may be some sort of redemption for Ellis to shoot out so quickly.
Last season, he batted second in the line-up and many writers used him as the example of how thin the Dodgers offense was. After all, a 35 year old player who batted a lowly .248 in 2011 wasn’t the prime example of a solid number 2 hitter.
A.J. had a solid season at the plate last year batting .270 with 13 home runs. He wasn’t expected to improve and the Dodgers made no bones about the fact they wanted to obtain a veteran catcher to spell Ellis if not outplay him for the starting job. Now, it is A.J’s job to lose-he is currently batting .321, the highest among NL starting catchers.