Sure, everyone is well aware of Clayton Kershaw's continued dominance and Zack Greinke's immense talent, but the Dodgers' success in 2013 will likely revolve around the effectiveness of the pitchers behind the rotation's presumptive top two.
Perhaps the most important question mark surrounding that segment of the staff is right-hander Chad Billingsley, who is set to be activated from the disabled list to make his first start since August, as the Dodgers take on the Padres on Wednesday at Petco Park.
In his first start following an elbow injury last August and a bruised right index finger this spring, Billingsley couldn't have handpicked a better team to face than the Padres. He has posted a lifetime 2.62 ERA against San Diego, and in 107 plate appearances against Billingsley, hitters on the current Padres roster are batting just .223 with a total of four extra-base hits.
Opposite Billingsley will be San Diego left-hander Eric Stults, who earned the Padres' first victory last week with five scoreless frames and seven strikeouts in a 2-1 win over the Mets.
"That's his game. We saw that last year," Friars manager Bud Black said. "Mixing pitches, a variety of speeds, kept them off balance all day. High and low with the fastball. "
Stults finished the 2012 campaign by going 7-1 with a 2.79 ERA in his last 10 starts. The Padres went 8-2 in those outings.
While Stults was shining down the stretch, Billingsley hit the disabled list with a partially torn UCL in his right elbow. He decided not to undergo surgery and instead chose a series of platelet-rich plasma injections in the offseason.
Then, in Spring Training, Billingsley bruised his right index finger, pushing his comeback back a bit. Now he'll make that elusive return start, with the fingernail glued into place.
The Padres took the series opener on Tuesday, 9-3, pounding the Dodgers bullpen -- which hadn't yet allowed a run all season -- for six runs in three innings.
Dodgers: Federowicz sent down
To make room for Billingsley, the Dodgers demoted rookie catcher Tim Federowicz, who was made expendable by the acquisition of backstop Ramon Hernandez, following Tuesday's game.
"We talked. I explained the whole situation," manager Don Mattingly said. "I think he's handled it well. I don't expect the guy to be happy. To tell you the truth, I don't know what else to do."
Federowicz hit .227 with a homer and six RBIs during Spring Training.
• On Monday, Kershaw was named the National League Player of the Week for the third time in his career after tossing 16 scoreless frames, earning two victories and adding a go-ahead home run for good measure during Opening Week.
Padres: Headley on the mend
Third baseman Chase Headley, who won the NL RBI crown last season, had an X-ray on his thumb Monday, and the news was positive.
So positive, in fact, that Headley was able to take grounders and hit off a tee before Tuesday's game. The club is hopeful he'll make a Minor League rehab stint and return to big league action by the end of April.
"It's healing like it's supposed to," said Headley, who fractured the tip of the thumb on March 17. "It feels good. [The team doctors] said that I can do as much or little as I want without pain."
• Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera has struggled against Billingsley, mustering just one single in 14 at-bats. Mark Kotsay, on the other hand, is 4-for-5 against the righty.
• The Padres are 42-40 against the Dodgers since Petco Park opened in 2004.
• After going 2-for-4 on Tuesday, Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier has a hit in each of his first six games this season. That extends his hitting streak to nine games dating back to last year, and during that stretch, he's hitting .355 with four doubles and two homers.