Reflecting on his first experience on the free-agent market, Chad Billingsley said he was surprised by the number of teams that were interested in him in the off-season.
He was also surprised that one particular team wasn’t: the Dodgers.
“They didn’t talk to me,” he said.
Billingsley looked down.
“It wasn’t the way I thought it would be,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
So on Tuesday night, Billingsley was wearing a Philadelphia Phillies uniform when he took the mound at the ballpark he called home for the previous nine seasons. As the public-address announcer at Dodger Stadium welcomed him back, the video scoreboards at Dodger Stadium flashed him a message that read, “Thanks, Chad.” The crowd clapped politely.
There would be other reminders of Billingsley’s time in L.A., namely in how well the former All-Star pitched. Billingsley earned his first victory for his new team, as he pitched the first six innings of a 7-2 win.
“I was pretty excited to be back out there today and be in a familiar atmosphere,” Billingsley said. “It was a lot of emotions.”
Billingsley, who had a 7.71 earned-run average in his previous four starts with the Phillies, limited the Dodgers to two runs and six hits. The only runs he gave up were scored in the sixth inning, when Yasmani Grandal hit a two-run home run to right-center field.
Billingsley was helped by a baserunning mistake by Justin Turner in the first inning and one by Grandal in the second.
“We gave him some free outs, let him off the hook early and then he settled down,” first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. “He did a good job after that.”
The victory was the first in more than two years for Billingsley, who bears scars from two operations on his right elbow. His last win had been April 10, 2013.
“For me, right now, the key is just about getting back out there every fifth day, getting into a routine and being a baseball player again,” Billingsley said. “Each time I get out there, I get more comfortable, get in a better rhythm.”
The Dodgers’ first-round draft pick in 2003, Billingsley reached the major leagues only three years later. He was part of a group of promising young players that included Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney and Jonathan Broxton.
Billingsley became a full-time starter in 2008 and won 16 games. The next year, he was a National League All-Star.
Although Billingsley never developed into the ace some expected him to become, he remained a reliable mid-rotation starter, winning 45 games from 2009 to 2012.
Late in the 2012 season, he partially tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. He made only two starts the next season, after which he underwent surgery. He never pitched for the Dodgers again.
He underwent a second elbow operation last year, this time for a partially torn flexor tendon.
The guaranteed portion of Billingsley’s three-year, $35-million contract expired at the end of the season. The Dodgers declined his $14-million option for the 2015 season, making him a free agent.
Billingsley was uncertain about his future, particularly because flexor-tendon operations are relatively rare in baseball.
“I don’t know if I doubted I was ever going to pitch again,” he said. “It was that it was unknown how it would be when I got back. They didn’t have a whole lot of information to tell me how my elbow was going to be.”
The Phillies signed him to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million even though they knew he wouldn’t be ready to pitch on opening day.
The Dodgers signed a reclamation project of their own in Brandon Beachy, who is also recovering from his second elbow operation. Beachy, who could make his season debut Saturday, will receive $2.75 million this year. His contract includes an option for next season worth $3.6 million, depending on how much he pitches this season.
Billingsley made his fifth start for the Phillies on Tuesday. He pitched three games in May, limiting the Arizona Diamondbacks to two runs over six innings in the last of them.
After that, he was sidelined for 1 1/2 months because of a strained side muscle. He returned from the disabled list last week, but gave up seven runs in five innings to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez