Chad Billingsley had a rough, and long, first inning on Monday, but he battled through it in his first appearance on a mound since Aug. 24. He pitched two innings in the Dodgers' 7-6 win over the Cubs on Monday afternoon at Camelback Ranch, but Billingsley wasn't so concerned with his results.
Billingsley missed the final six weeks of the season with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. But rather than opt for Tommy John surgery that would sidelined him for all of 2013, Billingsley had two injections of platelet-rich plasma into his elbow. He was able to throw at full intensity without pain by October, when he rehabbed and trained at Camelback Ranch.
"It's good to be out there. In the first inning I had a lot of adrenalin. It seemed like forever since I last pitched in a game," Billingsley said. "Today I had a little bit more adrenalin than usual for spring training. Just coming back it felt great to be out there competing in a game situation."
That game situation looked like it might turn into a blow out early for the Cubs. Luis Valbuena led off the game with a double off Billingsley, and was driven home when the next batter, Rex Barney did the same. Barney was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a triple on a fantastic relay through by shortstop Dee Gordon. That extra out was good for Billingsley, who gave up a home run to the third batter he faced, Nate Schierholtz.
But after those two early runs, Billingsley settled down. He allowed two more hits, didn't walk anybody, and struck out one in his two innings. Billingsley estimated that he threw 36 pitches, plus "another 10-15 more" in the bullpen after his outing. Manager Don Mattingly was impressed.
"Bills didn't walk anybody. That's one of the main things you look at when a guy has something going on, is the command," Mattingly said. "For us the command is there, or at least throwing strikes. Now, we work on location."
Billingsley said he threw three types of pitches in his first spring outing: fastball, curve, and change. He had a simple plan with catcher Ramon Castro.
"I told Castro just to stay on the plate. It's the first day out, I just want to throw strikes and get ahead in the count and pound the zone," Billingsley said.
Billingsley said he wasn't worrying about his elbow at all, that the adrenalin took over at first, then he settled in.
"After the first couple of throws I'm like, 'Yeah this is fun'," Billingsley said.
But after the rough first inning, Billingsley had to sit as the Dodgers had a long first inning of their own. It was started by a 17-pitch at-bat by Gordon and was a frame that Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva never got out of. But after the Dodgers tied the score at 2-2 with their 20-minute inning, Billingsley was able to recover nicely.
"Normally when you sit for a long half-inning, your arm gets tight and your body starts tightening up. But I went out there and had no problem getting loose or anything, so that's great."
Though he was excited about returning to the mound, Billingsley said he didn't see Monday's start as any sort of benchmark in returning from injury, that he was past that.
"As soon as I left (Arizona) in October, I felt I was ready to go," he said.
The early exit of Villanueva did eventually provide an opportunity to see Dontrelle Willis pitch, as the D-Train started the eighth inning for Chicago. But Willis, a non-roster invitee to Cubs' camp on a minor league deal, walked Nick Evans, the first batter he faced, then threw a ball to Brian Barden before summoning trainers to the mound. Willis exited the game with what the Cubs called shoulder tightness.
"It's a shoulder injury, a mild setback. Hopefully it's not serious," Willis said after the game. "It's probably just fatigue."
Willis not only got hurt, but ended up with the loss for his efforts.