Billingsley's Health Good News

Chad Billingsley had a couple of awkward games during the just concluded spring training. Nothing serious, you understand. "I was a bit too pumped up and my command was off so my pitches were coming in high," he notes. "But I feel good and my pitches have life so it shouldn't be a problem.

" The "feel good" part of that statement has to be the most encouraging portion. For Billingsley won the Ben Wade Award as the organization's Pitcher of the Year for 2004 and when you see what happened to the guys who preceded him to that honor for the past several years, you might worry some.

Greg Miller won in 2003. He's had two shoulder surgeries and hasn't pitched since. Jonathan Figueroa was the 2002 winner. He developed tendinitis the next spring and, although he's been pitching, hasn't returned to the bright form he demonstrated then.

Ricardo Rodriguez grabbed the honors in both 2000 and 2001, then was traded to the Indians who, in turn have sent him on to Texas. He, too, has had arm problems which he's trying to come back from with the Rangers. The 1999 winner was Eric Gagne. That was after he had arm surgery that cost him a season. He, of course, went on to become, arguably, the best closer ever. But, right now, he has both arm and knee woes and is on the disabled list with an uncertain return date.

In 1998 it was the Australian, Luke Prokopec. He was traded to the Blue Jays, then suffered an injury, subsequent surgery, tried to come back but never could.

See what I mean? You have to go back to 1997 and Dennys Reyes before you come up with a winner who stayed comparatively healthy. Look at that record and you wouldn't be surprised if Billingsley declined the honor. It's been a regular Sports Illustrated cover curse of pitching

However, here's Chad, the bright 20-year-old from Ohio taking his regular turn at Jacksonville and doing it in masterly style. Not that he hasn't had some bad luck. He was the opening day starter for the Suns, pitched two scoreless innings while striking out three, then sat and watched a downpour for over an hour. That delay took him out of the game which the Suns won 7-0 but, of course, he got a no-decision.

As he did in his next outing. There, he quickly gave up a run, then settled in his groove and went on to hold the opposition down. He wound up throwing five innings and left leading, only to have the bullpen blow it.

Oh, well, such is the life of a pitcher. The main point is that his fast ball is better than ever. Scouts clocked one at 97 in his second outing. His slider is sharp as is his curve and the change-up is coming along. In all, he's looking very much like he appeared in 2004, one of the more exceptional pitching prospects around. He sports a 2.57 ERA with nine strikeouts in seven innings.

So, maybe, you should look back and peruse the career of the 1991 winner of the Wade Award, a guy named Pedro Martinez. Oh, he's had his share of arm problems in the last couple of years just like the Dodgers feared he would so they traded him to Montreal. Of course, he's pitched his way to the Hall of Fame since then and shows no signs of slowing down in his dotage.

Chad would take that. So would the Dodgers -- except for the trading part.

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