Dodgers' staff loaded with questions
Fifth starter among roles to be decided at Spring Training
PHOENIX -- Following a barrage of questions about Alex Rodriguez and the state of baseball, Joe Torre got around to talking about the Dodgers on Friday.With pitchers and catchers technically reporting for Spring Training at a facility so new it wasn't really open yet, Torre, his coaching staff and general manager Ned Colletti sang the praises of Camelback Ranch-Glendale and outlined the issues of the pitching staff.
And there are issues. Three starting pitchers (Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Greg Maddux), the closer (Takashi Saito) and the situational lefty (Joe Beimel) are gone, along with Chan Ho Park, Scott Proctor and Jason Johnson."There are a lot of unanswered questions," said Torre. Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt were in agreement that Jonathan Broxton comes into camp having inherited the closer role from Saito. But both said Broxton has much to learn in the way of developing a splitter and not trying to overthrow. Returning to the starting rotation are Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Clayton Kershaw. Billingsley is healed from a broken left leg but will be excused from defensive drills at the start of camp. Randy Wolf signed last week to provide veteran leadership to the rotation, and the fifth-starter spot will be a cattle call involving Jason Schmidt, Eric Stults, Ramon Troncoso, Claudio Vargas, Shawn Estes and Eric Milton. Schmidt, who hasn't pitched in a Major League game in 20 months, is said to be healed from a second shoulder operation, but Honeycutt said the veteran will be eased into action. "He says he's fine, but, for me, I want to be conservative and not let him do too much too early," Honeycutt said. A recent change in the schedule that shifts a day off in San Diego from the first week of the season to the last month of the season will require the Dodgers to use a fifth starter immediately. Colletti said his recent signing spree of non-roster pitchers (including Milton and Jeff Weaver) provides enough depth from which to draw. Honeycutt batted away the traditional talk about which one was the ace. "We don't have a Koufax, a Santana, a Sabathia, that kind of guy," he said. "We have a lot of good arms. Chad is moving into more of an elite role. Kershaw has a chance to be elite. I don't put numbers on them." Possibly in the starting mix is Scott Elbert, who will begin camp as a starter to build arm strength. If management does not acquire a second lefty through free agency -- Beimel, Dennys Reyes and Will Ohman are on the radar -- Elbert could fall back into that role. Colletti said he's not prepared to move forward on one of them at this time. And James McDonald could wind up in the rotation, but Honeycutt and Torre were so impressed with his composure in the postseason that they envision him replacing Park as a middle reliever (while some envision McDonald as an eventual closer). Regardless, with Broxton, Kuo and Cory Wade seemingly sure things, the bullpen is young. Guillermo Mota is the veteran, and the other three spots will come from McDonald, Elbert, Weaver and a bunch of non-roster pitchers that include Yhency Brazoban. As for the franchise's new digs in the desert, after six decades in Florida, the baseball people are thrilled. Colletti said the facility will have a "major impact" on the club's player-development and rehab departments by serving as a year-round base. Torre repeated earlier praise about the convenience of the Cactus League, where so many teams are clustered so close that "we'll spend more time on the field than on buses."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.