PHOENIX — Despite boasting the biggest payroll in baseball history, the Dodgers opened spring training with a number of questions. And few were bigger than the state of Chad Billingsley's tender right elbow.
But after a strong outing Thursday in which the right-hander held the Texas Rangers to one earned run and two hits in 31/3 innings, Manager Don Mattingly said the issue of Billingsley's health is fading.
"We came in kind of concerned over last year. Was he going to be able to hold up?" he said. "And to this point, there hasn't been any mention of Chad ... needing extra days, anything.
"So from our standpoint, it's really good news the way he's bouncing back. And today he was really good."
Billingsley landed on the disabled list twice last season because of elbow problems, missing the last five weeks because of a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament. At one point the Dodgers feared he was headed toward Tommy John surgery, which would have sidelined him for all of the 2013 season.
But Billingsley opted for rest and a pair of platelet-rich plasma injections in the elbow instead. And though he's only three appearances and 72/3 innings into spring training, he is ready to pronounce the decision a success — even if he knocked on his wooden locker stall as he did so.
Asked if the team shared his optimism, Billingsley demurred.
"It doesn't matter what they think. It's what I think," he said. "And I know how I'm feeling."
Billingsley, 28, is a former All-Star who has won as many as 16 games in a season. But he has made more than 25 starts only four times in seven years and has reached 200 innings only once. If he's healthy, though, that could put an end to a four-man battle for what figures to be the final spot in the Dodgers' rotation.
That could soon have the Dodgers looking to move right-hander Aaron Harang and left-handers Ted Lilly or Chris Capuano, although the team would like to keep one of the left-handers in the bullpen as insurance.
Officials for various teams in both leagues say the Dodgers have advertised the fact they may have excess pitching to deal as opening day nears. So when Harang pitched a minor league camp game Monday, the Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers sent scouts.
"There's always other people watching. You know that," Harang said. "Every time you go out there, even if you're not on the trading block, there are other people always watching.
"That's part of the deal."
Carl Crawford hit 50 balls off a tee in the batting cage as he continues to rehabilitate his surgically repaired left elbow in the fading hope of being ready for opening day. If he is pain-free Friday morning, he will probably repeat the workout…. Zack Greinke, who missed his scheduled start Wednesday because of illness, won't pitch again until his normal turn comes up Monday. Greinke also missed a bullpen session Sunday because of forearm tightness.