Chad Billingsley to face hitters next week

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chad Billingsley might be the happiest player in Dodgers’ camp these days.

After 11 months of laborious rehab and 16 bullpen sessions, he is about to face hitters again. That step will come late next week against Dodgers’ minor-leaguers, Billingsley said, and it could be followed up fairly quickly by pitching in real games.

Shortly after the minor league season begins – on April 3 – Billingsley said he will begin his minor-league rehabilitation assignment. That will essentially be his spring training. He’ll begin by pitching two innings and, once he progresses to throwing 100 pitches, he could be ready to re-join the Dodgers’ rotation. Late April isn’t out of the question. Early May seems likely.

He is, in other words, well ahead of the typical rehab schedule for a pitcher recovering from Tommy John surgery. Billingsley underwent the procedure last April 25.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a really good rehab,” Billingsley said. “It’s a pretty boring process, so it’s nice to be able to think about getting out there again to face hitters.”

Billingsley has thrown fastballs, curveballs and changeups in bullpen sessions, but has not yet thrown his cutter or slider.

The Dodgers gave a pretty good indication Billingsley was progressing nicely last month when they decided not to put him on the 60-day disabled list when they added Erisbel Arruebarrena to the 40-man roster. Had they put Billingsley on the 60-day DL, he would have been ineligible to return until May 18.

Instead, the team designated shortstop Justin Sellers for assignment and he wound up with the Cleveland Indians.

Billingsley has spoken to ex-Dodger Chris Capuano frequently about enduring the lengthy rehab. Capuano underwent two Tommy John surgeries. The man who invented the surgery, Dr. Frank Jobe, died last week. He was 88.