By Jon Weisman
Chad Billingsley’s long and winding road has wound its way back to Dodger Stadium, where he will pitch tonight for the first time in more than two years — and for the first time ever as a member of the visiting team.
The right-hander is making his fifth start of 2015 for the Philadelphia Phillies — the only five starts he has made since April 15, 2013, when his first comeback attempt as a Dodger ended after two starts, followed by Tommy John surgery.
Billingsley, who turns 31 on July 29, was making minor-league rehab starts for the Dodgers in 2014 when he suffered another setback that led to season-ending flexor tendon surgery. Before the offseason was over, he had signed with Philadelphia, not far from his Defiance, Ohio birthplace.
He finally made it back to a Major League mound May 5, struggling through two starts of five innings apiece — though he hit a home run in the second game. Then on May 15, he pitched six innings of two-run ball, only to be placed on the disabled list yet again with a right shoulder strain.
Five days ago, he returned to action with another five-inning outing that left his 2015 ERA at 7.71. He arrived in Los Angeles having allowed 39 baserunners in 21 innings while striking out eight, but also determined to take the next step forward against the organization he spent 12 seasons with after being drafted in 2003.
“I always knew I was going to get back,” he told J.P. Hoornstra of the Daily News. “You never want to finish your career on something like that, not being able to make it back. I’m fortunate enough to be able to make it back.”
Appropriately enough, Billingsley will be opposed on the mound tonight by someone who knows a thing or two about coming back from injuries: Brett Anderson.
Billingsley is one of 13 pitchers in Los Angeles Dodger history with more than 1,000 strikeouts — in fact, tonight is the third anniversary of his 1,000th strikeout — and his adjusted ERA (ERA+) of 110 is the same as that of Don Sutton. He told Hoornstra that he was feeling a lot of emotions returning to Los Angeles, but asked to identify which ones in words, he could only reply, “I don’t know.”