By Jay Jaffe
Zack Greinke signed the largest contract of any free agent this winter, a six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers, but thus far, he's had a rocky spring. Last Sunday, he skipped a bullpen session due to forearm tightness, and then he was scratched from Wednesday's start with the flu. After throwing another bullpen session on Friday, the Dodgers planned for him to start a Cactus League game on Monday, but continued discomfort in his elbow led the team not only to scratch him again but to send him back to Los Angeles to be examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, a decision made "out of an abundance of caution," according to the team.
Greinke and the Dodgers can breathe a bit more freely for the moment, because the 29-year-old righty's MRI scan came back clean, according to manager Don Mattingly. The pitcher has said that he's dealt with similar elbow symptoms in the past, but that he's been able to pitch through them. During his nine-year major league career, he has been on the disabled list just twice, first while being treated for an anxiety disorder back in 2006, and then at the beginning of the 2011 season after breaking a rib playing basketball. Via the Baseball Prospectus injury database his only incidence of arm trouble since reaching the majors was a bout of shoulder inflammation in mid-2010 while still with the Royals, but a chance to rest over the All-Star break caused the problem to subside. Other than a couple of bruises via batted balls, he's never dealt with another arm injury.
Greinke will resume throwing again in a couple of days. So far he has just five Cactus League innings under his belt, but barring a further setback, he still appears to have three turns in the rotation remaining before his scheduled regular season debut on April 2 against the Giants, the second game of the season. Clayton Kershaw will start on Opening Day.
With eight starting pitchers under contract, the Dodgers have enough depth to give Greinke more time if needed. Of the presumptive starting five, Kershaw, Beckett and Korean import Hyun-Jin Ryu appear to be fine. Chad Billingsley, who received a plasma-related platelet injection last fall instead of undergoing Tommy John surgery, hasn't had any problems with his elbow thus far, though he's experiencing some minor groin soreness, an injury he's dealt with in previous springs.
As for the trio of pitchers who appear to be on the outside looking in barring a significant injury, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang have both thrown without incident, unless you count double-digit ERAs as incident; the former has allowed four homers in five innings, while the latter has yielded 11 hits in his five frames — not that spring stats mean anything. Ted Lilly, who's coming off shoulder surgery, has made just one two-inning appearance thus far due to the flu, but Mattingly has been impressed with his bullpen sesions, and says that the 37-year-old lefty is throwing 88-89 mph, consistent with his PITCHf/x velocity readings from years past. Despite having signed Ryu to a six-year, $36 million deal on top of a $25.7 million posting fee, the Dodgers may begin the year with him in the bullpen and Lilly in the rotation out of concern regarding the latter's injury history, pitching style and time needed to warm up. That said, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo says that in terms of trade candidates, Lilly is attracting more interest than either Capuano or Harang, though the general consensus is that Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti will hold onto as many of the starters as possible for as long as he can, particularly with Greinke under a caution flag. No matter whom they trade, Los Angeles is likely to eat some salary as it thins the herd; Lilly is making $12 million, Harang $7 million plus a $2 million buyout on a 2014 mutual option, Capuano $6 million plus innings-based incentives and a $1 million buyout on a 2014 mutual option.