As they prepare for a critical three-game weekend series at San Francisco, the team they are chasing in the National League West and are 4.5 games behind, the Los Angeles Dodgers learned that their starting rotation will receive a stern test for the rest of the season.
Right-hander Chad Billingsley was shut down with a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament and was transferred to the 60-day disabled list. The absence of Billingsley, who was a proficient No. 2 starter behind staff ace Clayton Kershaw and owned a 10-9 record with a 3.55 ERA in 25 starts, means that Los Angeles must count on Josh Beckett, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Joe Blanton over the final 24 regular season games.
At 73-65, the Dodgers are trying to overtake the Giants and win the National League West, but they are also just 1.5 games in back of St. Louis for the second wild card spot.
Billingsley landed on the 15-day DL on August 25. He could require Tommy John surgery if the slight tearing does not heal. If so, he would miss the 2013 season. Signed to a three-year, $35 million extension last year that includes a $14 million team option for 2015, the 28-year-old Billingsley had posted a 6-0 record and surrendered six runs in a six-start period before leaving in the fourth inning against the Marlins on August 24 because of elbow inflammation. He was 4-9 with a 4.30 ERA in 18 starts leading to the All-Star break. In the second half, he was 6-0 with a 1.80 ERA in seven outings.
The Dodgers replaced Billingley on the active roster with 21-year-old left-handed reliever Steven “Paco” Rodriguez, who was selected in the second round out of the University of Florida this summer. Rodriguez, who logged a 1.32 ERA and a .149 batting average against in 15 games at Double-A Chattanooga, became the first player from the 2012 draft to reach the majors.
Rodriguez joins Randy Choate as southpaws in the Dodgers bullpen. The team could soon see the return of veteran left-hander Ted Lilly, who has been sidelined since May 24 with left shoulder inflammation and back pain. The 36-year-old Lilly is 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA in eight starts this season, but manager Don Mattingly told reporters that he would be used as a left-handed relief specialist when he is activated from the DL.
The Dodgers acquired Beckett from the Red Sox in a blockbuster trade last month hoping that a change of scenery would revitalize the 32-year-old right-hander who has a track record of success in the postseason. Beckett was 5-11 with a 5.23 ERA in 21 starts with Boston but is 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in two starts for Los Angeles.
Kershaw (12-8, 2.79 ERA) is one of the most dominant starters in the game, but beyond him the Dodgers have question marks with Beckett, Capuano (11-10, 3.63 ERA), Harang (9-8, 3.75 ERA) and Blanton (who is 1-3 with a 6.17 ERA in six starts since he was acquired from Philadelphia).