But Tuesday he finally gave up the dream, telling Andreina Salas Guzman of the El Universal newspaper he was closing it down and calling it a career.
Despite a procedure to have nerve endings in his neck cauterized by a spine specialist, Lilly continued to be bothered with pain and determined he would be unable to approach his previous form.
“I don’t feel I can return to being the pitcher I used to be,” Lilly told El Universal.
Too many injuries, too many years. He had some great moments with the Dodgers, but there was plainly no place for him within their current formation. They released him in July.
Lilly spent parts of four seasons in the Dodgers rotation, going 24-21 with a 3.81 ERA. He was off to a terrific start in 2012 (5-1, 3.14) when his career became battered by injury.
He never did come back that season. After he returned to the rotation at the end of last April, he was beset by the nerve problem. After a stint on the disabled list with what was originally called a rib strain, he returned to make three more starts before he was shut down for good on June 4.
During his career, Lilly went 130-113 with a 4.14 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP.
“When I started I wasn’t even sure I would pitch a season and even last a year,” Lilly said. “In some ways it’s been a much better career than I imagined."
Lilly said the best times of his career came during his first two seasons with the Chicago Cubs, when he went a combined 32-17 with a 3.96 ERA.
“My first two years with the Cubs were the best of my career,” he said. “I was effective and on a good team, and Chicago was a great city to play in.
“And to not be myself made this the worst year of my career.”
Lilly lives in Oakhurst, Calif., a small city near Yosemite National Park. Lilly, who made over $80 million during his career, said he was uncertain what he would do next. Lilly said he might enter coaching after taking a year off.