Difficult decisions abound
Less than a week before season, more solid players than LA roster spots
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Joe Torre was talking Tuesday about the roster decisions facing the Dodgers this weekend (many and complicated) when he turned the conversation to Chin-lung Hu, he of the .181 average in his big league time last year.
"To me, Hu's been the star of the spring," the manager said. "There are other guys, and the X-man [Xavier Paul] has been great. But as far as Hu, from last spring, he's an example of somebody that was really hurt being up and when he came back [from Triple-A] he wasn't the same guy as the spring and we didn't know what to expect this spring."But his whole demeanor has changed. He seems to feel good about himself. Even at bat, he's more accomplished. So based on the last we saw of him last year, that's why to me he's the guy of the spring." "Last year, I think too much," Hu said. "This year, every day is the same routine. I try to relax. Last year is over. This year, I make it simple and not try too much."
With the everyday infield of Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, Orlando Hudson and James Loney set, and Mark Loretta the likely pinch-hitter, Hu and Blake Dewitt are on the bubble for bench roles -- Hu as the pure shortstop, DeWitt as a more versatile utility infielder.
"Whatever happens is going to happen. There's a lot of stuff I can't control," said DeWitt, who returned to shortstop Tuesday for the first time in more than two weeks. Management's comfort level with DeWitt at shortstop could determine if he stays or returns to Triple-A.
Overall, however, the front office is concerned about keeping developing young players sitting on the Major League bench instead of continuing their progress playing regularly at Triple-A. Torre said the thought of not keeping DeWitt in the Major Leagues is made even tougher because of how well he played there last year with less experience. On Tuesday against the D-backs, DeWitt homered, doubled, drove in two and scored two, while Hu went 2-for-5.
Both are 40-man roster players. If they don't make it, non-roster utilityman Doug Mientkiewicz and/or pure middle infielder Juan Castro will. And for a non-roster player to make the Opening Day roster, someone must be removed from the 40-man roster to make room. The way Torre has been talking lately, Mientkiewicz has the better chance of sticking, so there's a needed 40-man spot.
Room surely must be made for new reliever Will Ohman by his April 14 opt-out deadline. But Jeff Weaver is a non-roster pitcher almost assured of needing a roster spot, too.
In fact, there will be as many as 16 non-roster players making the trip west with the team at least through the weekend, some of them still contending for jobs, including pitchers Tanyon Sturtze, 21-year-old Josh Lindblom and even Ronald Belisario, on almost nobody's radar until his two scoreless innings Monday. Because of the roster squeeze, it's unlikely a non-roster player would be added at the cost of a 40-man spot unless the club expected to keep him long-term.
One roster spot likely to shake free is one filled by pitcher Claudio Vargas, who lost the fifth-starter competition, then complained of a sore elbow. Doctors could not find a cause and his roster spot would appear in jeopardy because his contract calls for only the Major League minimum $400,000 to be guaranteed, plus significant bonuses for any active time.
Another roster spot expected to become available is that of backup catcher Danny Ardoin. He is out of options and almost certainly will not make the Major League club with Russell Martin and Brad Ausmus on the team. Ardoin would either be claimed by another club or outrighted to Triple-A, but won't remain on the 40-man roster.
"Roster space is an issue," said Torre. "I know it's tight right now. We're still haven't finalized things."
Updating the injured, Torre said Loretta (groin) would get extra at-bats playing in a Minor League game Wednesday. Martin is still ailing with the flu and probably won't play for several days.
Pitcher Jason Schmidt, coming off a generally positive game over the weekend, is likely to remain in Arizona working at Camelback Ranch-Glendale for the next week or two while pitching in Minor League games stressing command issues. Torre said Schmidt would rather do that than accompany the club to Los Angeles.
"He seems to want to do that," said Torre. "He was excited about the way he threw in the first inning the other day, not frustrated. He understands as long as something good is happened, eventually it will get better. I don't think we've put a time frame on it. We're talking about him coming back when his arm strength comes back. He wants to get back his command and control. The first inning was good. Then he was trying to manufacture velocity and that's when he loses command."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.