Lilly could crash party for fifth starter

Much has been made of the Dodgers’ surplus of starting pitching this off-season, but one player who has flown under the radar for much of the talk is Ted Lilly.

Remember him?

The 37-year-old Lilly is entering his final year of a three-year contract that will pay him $13.5 million this season and is coming off a 2012 campaign that saw him make just eight starts.

For the usually dependable Lilly, who had made no less than 25 starts from 2003-2011, last season was an obvious disappointment, but to count him out of the race for the fifth spot in the rotation could be a mistake.

In his first seven starts last season, Lilly posted an ERA of just 1.79 — good for best in the league at the time — with six quality starts. In his final start of the season, Lilly got shelled for 8 runs in 3.1 innings, but even with that outing his season ERA stood at 3.14.

So having not pitched since May of last year, does Lilly really have a chance to regain a spot in the rotation?

In short: absolutely.

For starters, the guy is an excellent pitcher when healthy — as evidenced by his stellar run of starts before getting injured. As far as talent goes, he is definitely ahead of Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, but just slightly behind Chad Billingsley.

For Billingsley, however, health is also a concern.

Having opted to avoid Tommy John surgery, Billingsley is rolling the dice with a partially torn elbow ligament that all of Los Angeles hopes experiences some miraculous healing.

If Billingsley is healthy it’s tough to imagine a scenario where Billingsley isn’t completing a rotation of Kershaw, Greinke, Beckett and Ryu — but what if he isn’t?

The trendy pick is Chris Capuano, who is coming off a career year in 2012, but I also think that Capuano is the pitcher in the group best suited for work out of the bullpen.

The last member of the group is Aaron Harang, who is definitely on the outside looking in of the competition, and appears to be the member of the group most likely to be dealt.

So to sum up, we’ve got a guy who hasn’t pitched in 10 months (Lilly), a guy who’s pitching with remnants of an elbow (Billingsley) and two middle-of-the-road starters coming off career years (Capuano and Harang).

Is too much pitching a luxury? Yes.

Does thinking that make Don Mattingly’s job any easier? Nope.

While the expectation is that Billingsley, if healthy, fills the fifth spot this season, the prospect of Lilly returning to the form he displayed in 2012 is intriguing to say the least. With pitching already a strength in Chavez Ravine, the emergence of a reliable fifth starter will only make 2013 even more promising.

Staff Writer

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