Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp celebrates after scoring a run against the… (Rob Carr / Getty Images )
BALTIMORE — Matt Kemp was smiling and recounting the details of the Dodgers' sweep-preventing 7-4 victory over the Baltimore Orioles when he was asked about Chad Billingsley.
"What happened?" Kemp asked.
He didn't know that Billingsley had been scratched from his scheduled start Sunday because of pain in his throwing elbow. The third starting pitcher to land on the disabled list in the last nine days, Billingsley didn't rule out the possibility of reconstructive surgery. He is expected to be examined Tuesday in Los Angeles by team physician Neal ElAttrache.
"Dang," Kemp said.
The Dodgers' six-game losing streak was over. But departing Camden Yards for a three-game series against the Mets in New York, they knew their pitching depth was about to be severely tested.
Billingsley could be sidelined for a couple of weeks, a couple of months or until next season. Co-ace Zack Greinke is recovering from an operation on his non-throwing shoulder and is expected to be out until mid-June. Chris Capuano should be the first of the inactive pitchers to return; his injury is a calf strain sustained during the brawl against the San Diego Padres in which Greinke was injured.
Stepping in for Billingsley on Sunday, and for the foreseeable future, was Stephen Fife, who was recalled from triple-A Albuquerque.
In his sixth major league start, Fife gave up three runs in the first inning to the Orioles. The 26-year-old right-hander was charged with four runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Fife was often praised by Manager Don Mattingly during spring training but was believed to have almost no chance of pitching for the Dodgers, who had eight well-paid starters ahead of him.
But injuries, coupled with the trade of Aaron Harang, have reduced the Dodgers' rotation to something that resembles their staffs from the Frank McCourt era.
They have Clayton Kershaw followed by four question marks: Ted Lilly, who is recovering from a shoulder operation and will make his season debut Wednesday; Hyun-Jin Ryu, a rookie from South Korea; Josh Beckett, 32 and prone to serving up home runs; and Fife, who made three starts in triple A this year, none longer than five innings.
Kershaw will start the series opener against the Mets on Tuesday.
Second baseman Mark Ellis insisted the Dodgers have the necessary depth to withstand the losses. Of Fife in particular, he pointed to some solid starts he made last season as evidence of why he will be better next time.
"The bottom line is, we score runs, we're going to win ballgames," Ellis said.
The names in their high-priced lineup would seem to indicate the Dodgers can replicate their seven-run outburst from Sunday. But the reality is that it was an anomaly — they have been held to three or fewer runs in 12 of their 18 games.
Mattingly attempted to get the Dodgers out of their rut Sunday by swapping Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez in the batting order, moving Kemp to fourth and Gonzalez to third.
But their break came courtesy of Orioles starter Jake Arrieta, who walked two batters and hit another to load the bases in the fifth inning. Ellis singled to center field to drive in two runs. Gonzalez doubled in another. Kemp's single to left scored Ellis and put the Dodgers ahead, 5-4.
The Dodgers added an insurance run in the seventh inning, when Kemp singled, stole second base and scored on a single by A.J. Ellis, and another in the ninth, when Gonzalez scored on a sacrifice fly by Jerry Hairston Jr.
Kemp leaped and screamed after scoring in the seventh, a rare moment of jubilation for the slumping star, who is homerless with six runs batted in this season.
"We haven't scored too many runs lately," Kemp said, explaining why he celebrated as he did.
Kemp raised his average from .182 to .235 by collecting six hits in the three games in Baltimore, including three Sunday. He has stolen a base in each of the last three games.