GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It might just be a matter of time before the ulnar collateral ligament in Chad Billingsley's right elbow gives out. But if it is, you can't hear the ticking over the optimism at the Los Angeles Dodgers' spring camp.
"There has been no mention of Chad in any of the medical reports or anything else," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Billingsley, who is scheduled to make his spring debut Monday against the Chicago Cubs. "His name is not on a list. It's not on anything. He's just like the rest of the guys, just getting ready.
"If you didn't know what happened last year, you'd think this was just a normal spring."
That is exactly what Billingsley, 28, maintains this is. Monday's first Cactus League start would seem to be another test for Billingsley's elbow to pass -- if he acknowledged there was anything left to test.
"When I left here in November, that was the last test I had to pass," said Billingsley, who threw bullpen sessions and a simulated game at the Dodgers' training complex that month, reportedly hitting 94 mph on the radar gun. "Since I got here, I've thrown live BP (batting practice) to hitters. I've been throwing all my 'pens with no issues. I've been throwing max effort for a while.
"I'm just excited to get back out there. It seems like a long time even though I only missed the last five weeks of the season."
It has been awhile -- but it hasn't been as long as it could have been.
Billingsley was shut down in late August when a partially torn ligament was discovered in his elbow. Rather than undergo Tommy John surgery, which would have kept him out for the entire 2013 season, Billingsley opted to undergo two platelet-rich plasma injections. The relatively new procedure involves drawing the patient's blood, separating out the platelet cells, and re-injecting them into the injured area. The hope is the PRP will stimulate healing and, in a case like Billingsley's, promote a regeneration of the damaged tissue.
"If I had it (the surgery), it was going to be 12 months (recovery time) and I was going to miss all of this season," Billingsley said. "If I did everything I could from August on and it started to get bad -- I could still have it then and it wouldn't cost me any more (time). I'd still miss all of this year.
"So I figured I was going to do the work, do whatever would give me the best chance not to have it. If it didn't hold up, OK, then I'd have the surgery."
There are few studies at this point that can quantify Billingsley's odds of successfully avoiding ligament-replacement surgery with the combination of PRP injections, strengthening exercises and physical therapy that he threw himself into during the winter. But there is a long list of players who tried to dodge the surgical knife over the years and were unsuccessful.
Billingsley shrugs off the history of pitchers who tried and failed to avoid Tommy John surgery after injuring a UCL. Instead, he points to a former teammate as his role model.
"Saito did it and he was, like, 38 years old. And he's still pitching," Billingsley said, referring to former Dodgers closer Takashi Saito.
Saito went the PRP route after suffering a partially torn UCL with the Dodgers in 2008. He is believed to be the first major-league pitcher to receive PRP injections for an elbow injury. He returned to pitch four more seasons in the majors without the surgery. At age 43, he signed to pitch in Japan this year.
Dodgers chairman/owner Mark Walter was quoted in another publication saying the team has had talks with Mattingly about a new contract. But it is believed that nothing is imminent and nothing has changed about Mattingly's contract status. He is in the final year of his deal with an option year for 2014 that has not been picked up yet. ...
LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu made his spring debut Sunday, allowing a triple to DeWayne Wise in his one inning. The triple came on a hanging curveball, the only curveball Ryu threw in his 16 pitches. Earlier in the week, Ryu was given a tutorial from Sandy Koufax on his curveball grip. "I guess it didn't really work today," Ryu joked through his translator. "But I'll keep practicing."
(c)2013 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Visit The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) at www.ocregister.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services