PHOENIX -- With the fifth-starter competition eating up diminishing innings, the Dodgers trimmed the list of contenders Sunday by cutting veteran left-hander Shawn Estes.

The club also reassigned knuckleball specialist Charlie Haeger, who will start at Triple-A Albuquerque. Estes was offered a chance to do the same but said he hasn't decided whether to accept, take his release and seek employment elsewhere or retire.

"I didn't expect to have this option today," the 36-year-old said. "It's disappointing and a little shocking, to be honest. I still feel I've got a lot left in the tank, I've got the stuff to get big league hitters out and still feel I can be a starter."

Estes pitched two scoreless innings Saturday, then couldn't get out of a third inning, allowing a pair of runs. He has an 8.44 ERA in five Major League exhibition games, allowing 19 hits in 10 2/3 innings and a .380 opponents batting average.

"We're at a point where we had to start separating people and we don't have enough innings," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.

Torre listed the ever-changing group of fifth-starter candidates as James McDonald, Eric Milton, Eric Stults and Claudio Vargas. McDonald stepped to the front of that group with three hitless innings Saturday after an otherwise undistinguished Spring Training.

Estes said he believed his experience put him at least on par with Milton as a front-runner. He said he was told of the decision in a meeting Sunday with Torre, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and club officials Kim Ng and DeJon Watson. He later met with club officials Rick Ragazzo and Bill Mueller and after that met with general manager Ned Colletti.

"I feel I could have been the right man for the [fifth-starter] job," Estes said. "I expressed that in Joe's office, but it's not like it's 'The Apprentice.' You don't go in and plead your case. By that time, it's pretty much over. It's not like you can say anything to keep your job.

"I don't really agree with it. I feel I can help the club. I'm just starting to find my rhythm with my curveball for the first time all spring, for the first time since my surgery [Tommy John elbow ligament replacement in 2006]. Actually, I feel more confident about my pitching at this point than any time this spring."

Estes is a 12-year MLB veteran who won 15 games as recently as 2004 with Colorado and was a 19-game winner with San Francisco in 1997. The thought of heading over to the Minor League side of camp was a little more than Estes was ready to consider. He said he came to Spring Training believing he would make the Major League team or retire.

"That was sort of a mental trick, a sense of urgency that it's the end-all," he said. "The last two weeks, talking to family and friends, no one seems that I should call it quits. I'm 36. It's tough. It's not easy to go to the other side with two weeks in camp. I'm kind of at a crossroads of my life. When you call it quits, you're calling it quits. No turning back like another job where your age doesn't matter."

Estes did an inventory of the pitchers who might be starting at the club's Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque and expressed concern over the numbers of arms, as well as the altitude of the city.

"Albuquerque," he said. "I might as well go pitch on the moon."

Torre said he was likely to have Stults pitch in a Minor League game to get additional innings. Torre seems to have somewhat discounted Stults' inconsistent Spring Training because the pitcher's mother died two weeks before he reported.

"He's had a lot of things going on," Torre said. "It's been an emotional roller coaster and we all understand, Unfortunately, the clock doesn't stop. He has a lot of things going for him. He's pitched in the big leagues and pitched some big games in the big leagues. It's a matter of him getting back into a state of mind. I had a little conversation with him the other day. He knows he hasn't pitched well. He knows what he has to do and we'll give him the opportunity to do it."