Chad Billingsley threw curve balls in his bullpen session on Monday afternoon, the first time he has done so since injuring his right finger on Mar. 15 in a bunting drill. How quickly Billingsley is able to effectively throw the curve ball will determine his return to the starting rotation.
Billingsley had a bruised right finger that caused him to miss a start on Mar. 19, and he threw a minor league game on Mar. 23. Though the pain in his finger subsided, Billingsley didn't throw any curve balls before Monday for fear of losing his fingernail.
"The only issue is with my curve ball because I spike it with my fingertip, which pushes the nail back into the finger," he said on Saturday.
Billingsley threw the curves in his bullpen session on Monday without pain, but that's only the first part of the plan.
"The fact that he's throwing pain free is one thing. The fact that the pitch is working is another," said manager Don Mattingly. "There are two scenarios: one is getting the pain out of there so he can throw it, and then what does it look like? Has he got command of it? Has he lost the feel for it? Is it going to take a little time?"
The next step for Billingsley is a start on Mar. 28, and if he is able to effectively throw curve balls by then, a start on Apr. 2 in the second game of the regular season against the Giants. But the Dodgers are keeping their options open just in case. They have Hyun-jin Ryu on the same schedule as Billingsley, and have been using Billingsley on the minor league side in case they need to place him on the disabled list to start the season.
"We're still up in the air with Bills. We've been talking about different scenarios. Again, he and Ryu are both on that day," Mattingly said.
Billingsley was going to start the exhibition game on Thursday in Rancho Cucamonga against the Class-A Quakes, but because the Dodgers are playing and tickets are being sold the game counts as a major league game, not a minor league one, per MLB. Stephen Fife will now likely start Thursday in Rancho Cucamonga with Billingsley throwing a simulated game, perhaps in Anaheim, where the Dodgers open the Freeway Series against the Angels.
Keeping Billingsley on the minor league side allows the Dodgers to backdate a potential disabled list stint to Mar. 22, with the activation date as early as Apr. 6. Because of a pair of off days early in their schedule, the Dodgers don't technically need a fifth starter until Apr. 13. But the Dodgers could use a fifth starter as early as Apr. 7, one day after Clayton Kershaw makes his second start of the season.
Putting Billingsley temporarily on the disabled list gives the Dodgers some roster flexibility with a potential extra relief pitcher, but Mattingly said the health and effectiveness of Billingsley and his finger nail are the main concerns with any kind of move.
"It's really more about him being ready. Is Bills going to be 100% with his weapons. Is he ready to go. That's where our decision gets made. It's not going to be worrying about a roster spot," Mattingly said. "If he's throwing his curve ball 100%, then we have decisions to make."
- Zack Greinke is expected to throw roughly 60 pitches on Monday night, his first Cactus League outing since Mar. 1.
- Following Greinke on the mound will be Brandon League, Matt Guerrier, J.P. Howell, and Kenley Jansen. Minor league pitchers to make the trip for the Dodgers were left-hander Mike Thomas (No. 83) and Kyle Cofield (No. 96).
- Other minor leaguers in uniform for the Dodgers on Monday are catcher Chris O'Brien (No. 95), infielders Brian Barden (No. 48), Rafael Ynoa (No. 82), and Angelo Songco (No. 88); and outfielder Nick Buss (No. 84).
- Scheduled to pitch after Wade Davis for Kansas City on Monday are Luke Hochevar, Aaron Crow, J.C. Gutierrez, and Dan Wheeler.
Time: 6:10 p.m. PT
TV: Fox Sports Kansas City, MLB Network
Radio: KLAC 570