Billingsley heads to DL, Fife recalled for Sunday start
Veteran righty sidelined by elbow pain, makes second trip to disabled list this year
BALTIMORE -- Chad Billingsley was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with right elbow soreness, the third Dodgers starting pitcher to go down in little more than a week.
The Dodgers went into Spring Training with eight highly paid starting pitchers, then dealt Aaron Harang. Now, with Billingsley joining Zack Greinke (broken collarbone) and Chris Capuano (pulled calf muscle) on the sidelines, the crisis forced the club to recall Stephen Fife from Triple-A Albuquerque to make Sunday's start against Baltimore.
Billingsley's injury could be the worst of the bunch, as the club has held its collective breath ever since he missed the final two months of the 2012 season with a partially torn elbow ligament, the kind of injury that usually requires Tommy John surgery and a year on the sidelines to fix.
Instead, Billingsley took several platelet-rich plasma injections and hoped to avoid an operation. It got him two starts into this season, but Billingsley said Sunday he didn't rebound well from his most recent start Monday, when he allowed three runs in six innings to the Padres.
Billingsley said it was too soon to tell if he would need surgery and wouldn't comment on it until he meets with team doctor Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles.
Manager Don Mattingly conceded he's "a little bit" concerned considering Billingsley's elbow history.
"It's hard not to think about it," Mattingly said. "We're talking about it all spring, all winter. I don't want to be the guy to rush to judgment, but it's hard to think it doesn't have something to do with [last season 's injury]. We've got to see where we're at. Let's let the doc read the exam."
Billingsley tried to throw a brief bullpen session Friday at Camden Yards, but said "it didn't feel right, didn't feel I could throw where I should be able to." He had an MRI Saturday, but until ElAttrache can compare the results to last year's MRI (probably Tuesday in Los Angeles), the extent of the injury is unclear.
"As far as what's wrong? I don't know," said Billingsley. "Last year, I felt it on a certain pitch right on the ligament. This time, between starts [it was] right in the elbow. Honestly, I don't know what the deal is."
The Dodgers knew on Saturday that Billingsley wouldn't make the Sunday start and flew in Fife, but didn't announce the move until Sunday. Mattingly said the club had considered keeping Billingsley active and just skipping a start.
Billingsley made it sound more serious than one start.
"Just throwing, I felt like I couldn't let the ball go, because I didn't know what would happen," he said. "The last start it felt a little tight at the start of the game, but that's normal at the start of a season, when you're building arm strength. As the game went on, it felt fine. But the next day, [there was] no recovery. With the off-day, an extra day, it just never recovered. The touch-and-feel [during bullpen session], it didn't feel normal."
Billingsley opened the season on the disabled list, but it was for a bruised right index finger he suffered while bunting in Spring Training. He has made two starts, going 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings.
Billingsley's injury comes a week after the Dodgers learned they would be without Greinke for two months because of a broken collarbone he suffered in a benches-clearing melee in San Diego on Apr. 11. The Dodgers also lost Capuano, who took over for Greinke in the rotation, to a pulled calf muscle suffered, in part, sprinting in from the bullpen during the incident in San Diego.
"It's happened fast, basically all since Zack in the brawl in San Diego," said Mattingly. "Capuano gets hurt running in and goes down. Now Bills, three guys in a matter of four or five days. That's kind of weird. It is what it is. On the bright side, we did have a little bit of a surplus and hope it pays off for us."
Mattingly, with his club in a six-game losing streak, was asked if he felt cursed.
"No, we're just going through a little bit of a rough time," he said. "We've got to get a win on the board. It does seem like a little bit of piling on, but nobody is going to feel sorry for us."
Fife has been the club's designated replacement for Billingsley since the season started, having pitched for Albuquerque on the same days Billingsley pitched for the Dodgers. He was 1-1 with a 4.61 ERA for the Isotopes, striking out 14 with three walks but allowing 20 hits in 13 2/3 innings. He last pitched Monday, when he allowed four runs on eight hits in five innings with eight strikeouts.
Fife, 26, was 2-0 with a 3.45 ERA in Spring Training and 0-2 with a 2.70 ERA in five starts with the Dodgers last season.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.