GLENDALE -- Chad Billingsley was among the Dodgers pitchers and catchers to report to camp at Camelback Ranch on Saturday, and though his recovery from Tommy John surgery is going as well as could be expected the right-hander has the perspective to curb his enthusiasm.
Billingsley threw three innings in a simulated game on Friday, with 12 pitches per frame. Billingsley said it was the 10th time he has thrown off a mound since beginning his throwing.
"My arm hasn't felt this good in a long time. I'm just trying to pace myself and take it a week at a time. They keep telling me, 'You feel good, just don't try to throw 95 yet,'" Billingsley said Saturday. "Make your delivery be natural. Don't try to force anything or speed up your arm speed."
Billingsley has thrown as fast as 85 mph, the upper limit set by Stan Conte and the training staff, though said he is now sitting mostly 80-81 mph. The real test will come on Monday, when Billingsley throws his next bullpen session and is surrounded by half the pitchers in camp, ones free of restriction.
"I would think this would be a dangerous time. You've worked on your own, and all of a sudden you get out there with the other guys. You get out there and it's another level," manager Don Mattingly said. "Stan talks about being careful with him, and not trying to keep up with the Jonses."
If this sounds familiar, it's because Billingsley was recovering from a UCL tear last spring as well. Billingsley tried to comeback without surgery, and everything was going well during spring training. From March 2013:
"I'm feeling good, throwing hard, throwing everything," Billingsley said. "They monitor everything, especially with me. In my whole rehab process that I went through last year, I had velocities I had to hit. The ball feels good coming out of my hand, that's all that matters."
Billingsley lasted two starts into the regular season before needing surgery, a procedure he had on April 24. Had Billingsley opted for surgery in September 2012, when the tear was first diagnosed, he'd be ready right now rather than still battling back. But immediately after he was asked if he had any regrets about the decision to try to avoid surgery, Billingsley abruptly said, "Nope."
Billingsley has so far been limited to fastballs and changeups, and hopes to start throwing curves by the end of February or early March. If all goes as planned, he'll throw live batting practice in March, then maybe in game situations by the end of March. This may sound cliched - the first day of spring training is full of them - Billingsley is taking things slowly.
"I learned a lot about patience this past year. It's been a process I've never experienced before," Billingsley said. "Doing the same thing over and over for days and months at a time, and you just have to keep doing it, keep rehabbing."
There is no real timetable for Billingsley's return, though late May to early June fall within the realm of possibility. He is making $12 million this year in the final season of a three-year contract, and has a $14 million club option for 2015, or a $3 million buyout.
"Nobody knows for sure. You can project and estimate, but you just have to take it one week at a time. You can't say too early because you rush yourself and get hurt, and you can't say too late and not work as hard. You want to be able to get back at full strength without any setbacks.
With a starting rotation that now runs six deep with the addition of Paul Maholm, the Dodgers are in a position to wait just as patiently for Billingsley's return.