Dodgers starting pitcher Chad Billingsley. (Denis Poroy / Getty Images )
Last time the Dodgers saw Chad Billingsley, he was pitching the best baseball of his career. Then his right elbow screamed and he was shut down.
The diagnosis was a partially torn elbow ligament, the kind that typically leads to Tommy John surgery. Which could have meant Billingsley would miss all of the 2013 season.
But Billingsley elected to try to rehab the elbow, had a couple of platelet-rich plasma injections and started working to regain arm strength.
His comeback was pushed back during spring training with a nail injury, but in his first start of the season Wednesday he looked pretty familiar, pitching the Dodgers to a 4-3 victory over the Padres at Petco Park.
For one night, a worthy gamble.
Relying mostly on his fastball, Billingsley went six strong innings, holding the Padres to one run on five hits and three walks. He struck out three.
Billingsley had not pitched in a game since Aug. 24. But if you add his final seven starts from last season to Wednesday’s effort, Billingsley is 7-0 with a 1.76 earned-run average in his last eight starts.
Of course, the Padres’ lineup is not to be confused with some powerhouse unit, but he threw 94 pitches, stayed in the low 90s with his fastball and pitched his way out of most trouble.
The Dodgers gave Billingsley a quick lead to work with when Carl Crawford led off the game with a solo home run off former Dodger Eric Stults.
The Dodgers added two more in the second after Luis Cruz snapped his 0-for-17 start to the season with a single, and A.J. Ellis lined a two-run homer to left.
Billingsley gave up one hit through three innings before surrendering his only run in the fourth on a walk and Chris Denorfia double.
The Dodgers got the run back in the top of the fifth inning when Crawford tripled off the center-field wall and scored on a hit by Mark Ellis. Crawford is batting .464 (13 for 29) with 13 runs.
With Billingsley pitching through the sixth inning, the Dodgers closed the game with their preferred trio of Ronald Belisario, Kenley Jansen and Brandon League.
League gave up a pair of runs in the ninth innings before earning his third save.
Despite the victory, the Dodgers still left 12 men on base and were only one for eight with runners in scoring position.