Pitchers, catchers open Spring Training
Belisario is lone unexcused absentee as camp gets under way
PHOENIX -- As Dodgers pitchers and catchers headed for stretching and their first workout of the spring on Sunday morning, manager Joe Torre corrected a reporter who suggested that the past two seasons ended the same.
"They didn't end the same way," said Torre. "On paper, yeah, losing in five games to Philadelphia. But our club felt last year we had a chance to do something special beyond what we did the year before. The year before, we had a good year. Last year, we had the ability to go a little farther, and we just weren't good enough."
The implication being that the Dodgers let that League Championship Series against the Phillies get away last year, and so have a mission of unfinished business even greater this time around, as they start the organization's second Spring Training at Camelback Ranch-Glendale.
While the club is generally healthy, Torre and general manager Ned Colletti expressed disappointment over reliever Ronald Belisario, who, for the second time, is late to camp because of visa problems in his native Venezuela.
"At this point in his life, [Belisario] needs to worry about it more than we do," said Collletti. "We've got a lot of people here who can pitch. He'll have to compete, and he'll be behind the whole group. Would I like him to be on time? Of course. But I can't worry about things I can't control."
Torre read from the same playbook.
"I don't know who is at fault, but we need [Belisario] here," Torre said. "It's all about keeping up, and he'll give other guys a head start the longer he's away."
The only other pitcher to miss the first workout was Eric Stults, who was excused to attend his father's wedding in Indiana, but returned by the end of the workout. Stults lost his mother to cancer before the start of Spring Training last year.
Torre said veteran Jeff Weaver, back for his second spring with the Dodgers on a Minor League deal, is being viewed as a swing man -- almost a sixth starter -- rather than in the mix with "six or seven" other candidates for the fifth starter spot. Torre liked the way Weaver handled the swing role last year, in which he is generally on call for long relief, with the experience to step in for a spot start.
The candidates for the fifth spot include Scott Elbert, James McDonald, Stults, Rule 5 pick Carlos Monasterios, Charlie Haeger, Josh Lindblom, Russ Ortiz and Ramon Ortiz.
Torre dismissed concern over the lack of a clear-cut staff ace, prefering to praise the depth of the rotation's top four, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla.
"You could have that one guy, and have 20 guys shooting for the other four spots," Torre said. "I'd rather have four guys like ours, and 20 shooting for that [fifth] spot."
Torre deflected concern over the bulked-up physique of catcher Russell Martin, who has gained 20 pounds from a year ago.
"Russell's trying to find it, trying to find the right combination for what works for him," Torre said. "He got spoiled early on, making the All-Star team a couple years in a row. The last couple years, he's trying to recapture that. That's what this game does to you. He has tremendous energy, and needs to know when to apply it."
Because of morning rain, practice fields were unavailable, and all batting practice and bullpen sessions were held in the covered batting practice cages.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.