It had been nearly eight months since Chad Billingsley was last pitching on a mound in a major league game, but the right-hander showed few signs of rust Wednesday night in a 4-3 victory over the Padres at Petco Park in San Diego.
Billingsley walked off the mound in a start last Aug. 24 against the Marlins, and was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The normal course of action would have been Tommy John surgery, that would have sidelined Billingsley for all of 2013. He instead opted for a pair of platelet-rich plasma injections in his elbow.
"I'd probably be sitting in Arizona right now (if I had surgery)," Billingsley said. "Thank God I was able to come back, get healthy, and stay healthy."
Billingsley was healthy all spring, save for a contusion on his right finger suffered in a bunting drill. That prevented him from throwing a curve ball for nearly two weeks, and caused him to open the season on the disabled list while he re-honed the curve.
"For the most part, for a first outing after a lengthy rehab last year, I thought it was pretty impressive," said manager Don Mattingly. "He used the curve ball a lot but he just didn't get a lot over. He kept throwing them though."
Billingsley said he had more success with his fastball.
"(The curve) was good. It's still not quite there, but I'm happy with the progress," Billingsley said. "I was pitching mostly with my fastball. I was able to make some pitches to get some double plays."
Billingsley lasted six innings and allowed just one run on five hits. He threw 94 pitches and won his first start for the fifth year in a row. In the 2010 game, Ronnie Belliard helped Billingsley's cause with a home run, triple, and double. On Wednesday, Carl Crawford was the main man on offense with a home run and a triple.
Three of Billingsley's season opening wins have come at Petco Park. He is 7-4 with a 2.30 ERA in 17 games, including 13 career starts in San Diego.
"He really grinded and battled his way through the six innings we needed. He's just trying to sharpen things up. It's been a while since he's been out there in the game," said catcher A.J. Ellis, who also homered. "I'm really impressed with what I saw out there, especially with how he competed."
Billingsley's outing gave the Dodgers seven quality starts in eight games, and the starters have a collective ERA of 1.73.
The Dodgers go for the series win on Thursday night, with Zack Greinke taking the hill against Jason Marquis for San Diego. Thursday's 7:10 p.m. PT game will be on Prime Ticket normally, without any other channels to find as alternates.