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Dodgers' Billingsley building up for 2014 return

L.A. leaves pitcher on 40-man roster, signaling he could return early in the season

Special to

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chad Billingsley said he was progressing well in his rehab from Tommy John surgery when he reported to camp. But the statement the Dodgers made over the weekend shows Billingsley's comments aren't just lip service.

The Dodgers needed to make room on the 40-man roster for new Cuban infielder Erisbel Arruebarrena and they could have shifted Billingsley, out since last spring, to the 60-day disabled list, which would have guaranteed the right-hander would be out until mid-May. But the team instead elected to designate for assignment infielder Justin Sellers, more than suggesting the one-time All-Star could return to a Major League mound before then.

"It seems that way," Billingsley said Sunday of reading between the lines. "I'm not really too worried about that. My main focus is getting healthy and being smart during this rehab. Don't have any setbacks.

"The rehab has been going great so far. The arm is feeling good. It feels like I have a new arm, really. The elbow started bugging me back in 2008 and it was a gradual deterioration from there, so it's nice to wake up in the morning and not feel like it's stiff and sore. It's a different feeling than I've felt in a long time. It's nice to throw without pain."

Billingsley underwent the elbow surgery last April after he made two regular season starts. Back then, or even six months ago, he didn't let himself put expectations or timetables on his progress.

"You can't predict a 12-month process," he said. "You'd like to be back by the 12th or 13th month, and right now it's going that way, but you never know."

Billingsley said he's thrown off a mound 14 times this spring, three innings of about 15 pitches each time. The one-time 16-game winner has kept his fastball between 80-85 mph the past five weeks at the doctors' behest. He will increase his velocity this week and hopes to throw breaking balls by the end of week.

"I'm gradually building up," he said.

A great amount of math goes into the rehab process. But Billingsley refuses to allow himself to become caught up in the arithmetic of where he fits in once healthy.

As it is the Dodgers have six starters -- Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, Josh Beckett and Paul Maholm -- for five rotation spots. That's actually two fewer than a year ago, Billingsley quickly points out.

"Last year they were talking about us having eight starters and we needed all eight," Billingsley said.

Indeed. After Billingsley went down, Greinke, Beckett and Chris Capuano also spent time on the disabled list at different points and for varying lengths.

"You can never have enough pitching," Billingsley, 29, said. "You break camp with 25 guys and you're going to need all 40, probably plus, to get through the season.

"It will figure itself out. I'm not too concerned about that. When I get healthy and ready to come back and pitch, when that time comes, decisions will have to be made. But they won't be my decisions to make. The only thing I can control is my rehab and getting ready to pitch in a big league baseball game."

Billingsley will make $12 million this season in the final year of a three-year, $35 million deal he signed before the 2012 season. The Dodgers own a $14 million team option on Billingsley for next year, with a $3 million buyout.

But Billingsley continues to focus on the process.

After a couple more bullpen sessions he'll begin to throw live batting practice. That should last the rest of the spring, though the possibility exists he could pitch in a Minor League game on one of the back fields by the end of March.

"Each time out I want to give it a little stress and push it just a little to strengthen it up," Billingsley said. "If everything goes well from now until then, when the team breaks for the season I could go on a rehab assignment. If everything goes well from there I'll be back by the end of April or early May."

But patience still is the prerogative.

"I'll know when my arm is ready and they'll know when I'm ready," Billingsley said. "That's when I'll be back on a Major League mound."

Chris Gabel is a contributor to

Los Angeles Dodgers, Chad Billingsley