A month ago, if you had said the Dodgers didn't have enough pitching, you'd probably be laughed at. The saying "you can never have enough pitching" exists for a reason, however. The Dodgers have shown this axiom to be true once more, after yet another one of their starters landed on the disabled list in April. Unlike with some clubs, though, who are reminded of this through poor planning or a lack of pitchers, it's not exactly the Dodgers' fault this happened.
The Dodgers began the year with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Chad Billingsley in the rotation. They had Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano under contract and in reserve, Ted Lilly working his way back from injury, and, in the minors, Stephen Fife, who started five games in 2012 when the injury bug hit the Dodgers. As we've said, there's no such thing as too much pitching, but when you consider roster restrictions with that statement, the Dodgers appeared to be set within the confines of MLB's rules by going nine deep with MLB starters. They had five starters in their rotation, two of them ace-caliber, two legitimate, big-league back-end starters on the payroll, another working back in Lilly, and then, in case of real emergency, an arm they could call up from the minors in order to avoid disrupting their key prospect arms.
Fast-forward to mid-April, and things have completely changed, Kershaw, Beckett, and Ryu remain, but Greinke is out after Carlos Quentin broke his collarbone following a hit-by-pitch that turned into a well-publicized brawl. Capuano stepped in for Greinke, but exited his own start with a calf strain. It turns out that Capuano aggravated the calf during the brawl; while he's no Greinke, that's just even more reason for Dodgers' fans to be furious about what went down against San Diego. It's just a strain, but it could be a serious one, as Capuano underwent a platelet-rich plasma injection in order to strengthen the area.
Photo credit: Rick Yeatts
Then there is Harang, who was dealt to the Rockies for Ramon Hernandez after the veteran pitcher was sent to the bullpen against his wishes. If he had just waited a couple of weeks, he would have had his spot, but now he's instead pitching with the Mariners in Seattle, for a team that's likely to finish the year in fourth place. Plus, he's doing it in the tougher league, in a division with better lineups. Beats pitching at altitude, at least.
Reconstructive elbow surgery was an option for Billingsley last year, but instead, he chose rest and rehabilitation. He felt tightness in his elbow last Monday against -- you guessed it -- the Padres, but the feeling persisted, and now he finds himself the latest Dodgers' hurler on the DL. It's too early to know if he will indeed require that reconstructive elbow procedure, but things are not looking good for him at the moment. Plus, if you're a Dodgers fan who has just seen all of these pitchers go down, you're likely assuming Billinglsey will end up needing his entire arm replaced instead, because that's just how things have been going as of late. [Editor's note: Billingsley will undergo Tommy John surgery on Wednesday, ending his 2013 season.]
As of now, Lilly is good to go, with his rehab over and his first start of the season scheduled for Wednesday. That still leaves a spot in their rotation, though, one that will, inexplicably, result in multiple April starts for their last line of defense, Stephen Fife.
There's nothing wrong with Fife, but he's a depth guy, someone who has pitched okay in Triple-A, and whose big-league numbers will even out once he has more than a handful of innings behind him. That process began on Sunday, when Fife gave up four runs in 4-1/3 innings to Baltimore, but the Dodgers managed to win despite the unimpressive outing. He's not someone the Dodgers expected to see in 2013 unless all hell had broken loose and they were out of it late in the year, but the universe didn't wait until August to inflict that punishment on them.
That's the thing, though. The Dodgers haven't done anything here that reflects very poorly on them. Yes, they traded Harang a little early in the season, but, with both Harang and and Lilly around, they were going to have a pen full of disgruntled starters. That, at least, makes it understandable. Otherwise? Greinke and Capuano were injured in a massive brawl. Billingsley's elbow possibly gave out, sure, but that's one of the reasons guys like Capuano and Lilly were still around to begin with. When all of your depth is hurt, too, and some of it for reasons beyond your control, there's not a whole lot you can do besides ask the baseball gods why.
More money wouldn't have kept this from happening -- believe me, the Dodgers would have spent it if they could. More pitching could have, in theory, but where was it to go? Baseball has roster rules for a reason, you know, and they already had two pitchers complaining about potentially losing out on starts just weeks into the season. No, the Dodgers came in to 2013 with known questions in their rotation, but were also prepared with answers. The problem is that those answers are now either hurt or gone (but mostly hurt), and it's going to make for a few months where Los Angeles could struggle to perform like their planned roster should.
With that all out of the way, the Dodgers should be commended for the fact that, despite all of the above, they are still using only arms that began the season in the organization. It's something, despite how dull that silver lining might seem right now.