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The Strike Zone

Eight was not enough: Dodgers dealing with dearth of quality starters

Chad BillingsleyChad Billingsley needs Tommy John surgery and is out for the season, but he isn't the only Dodgers pitcher to be hurting this season. (AP)

You can never have too much pitching. There are few greater truisms in baseball. Look no further than this year’s Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers entered the season with six starting pitchers on their major league roster (Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-jin Ryu, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang) and two more on the disabled list (Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly) on pace to be activated during the season’s opening weeks. That’s eight starting pitchers, a ton of depth in a league in which many teams enter camp with a dearth of options for the fifth spot in their rotation.

So how has that worked out? Well, on April 6, Los Angeles traded Harang, who went 10-10 with a 3.61 ERA for them last year, to the Rockies for veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez. On April 10, they activated Billingsley from the disabled list to fill the fifth spot in the rotation. On April 11, Greinke broke his left collarbone in an on-field fight after hitting the Padres' Carlos Quentin with a pitch. On April 16, Capuano started in place of the injured Greinke and suffered a calf strain that sent him to the DL as well. On April 21, the Dodgers called up Stephen Fife, who was ninth on their depth chart coming into the season, to start in place of Billingsley, who was returned to the DL with elbow pain, and on April 23, they announced that Billingsley needed Tommy John surgery and would miss the remainder of the season. Ted Lilly will be activated from the DL to start Wednesday night against the Mets.

Having traded Harang and lost Billingsley, Greinke and Capuano to injury, Los Angeles burned through all of its rotation depth in a little less than three weeks and, with Lilly’s start, will have used as many starters this year, nine, as it did in all of 2012.

What is the long-term impact of all that? Well, Harang is obviously gone, and Billingsley, who initially injured his elbow last August and attempted to avoid Tommy John surgery via platelet-rich plasma injections and offseason rehabilitation, is lost for the season. Greinke, who is in the first season of a six-year, $147 million contract and was supposed to be the number-two man in the rotation behind ace Clayton Kershaw, is out until at least mid-June. Capuano, who went 12-12 with a 3.72 ERA and solid peripherals last year, is eligible to return in early May. That would give Lilly roughly three starts to prove he’s healthy and effective coming off September labrum surgery as he and Fife, a 26-year-old non-prospect who is 0-2 with a 3.45 ERA in six career major league starts with league-average peripherals, are effectively battling for Greinke’s spot in the rotation.

Fife made five starts for the Dodgers last year and may not need to make more than three or four in his current role as Capuano’s replacement. In a couple of weeks, the Dodgers’ rotation could be Kerhsaw, Beckett, Ryu, Capuano and Lilly, and by late June, Greinke could be back to replace whichever of Capuano or Lilly has proven least effective. If all goes according to that plan, the team's depth will still pay off, but the trade of Harang (who was subsequently dumped on the Mariners and was lit up in his second start for Seattle) appears to have been premature, not that anyone thought so at the time. It just goes to show, that for the Dodgers eight was not enough.

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