Dodgers shut down Kuo with sore elbow
Martin eyes Opening Day; DeWitt nears job at second
PHOENIX -- While Dodgers catcher Russell Martin now seems likely to make Opening Day, reliever Hong-Chih Kuo almost certainly will not.
Kuo was shut down again Friday after experiencing more elbow discomfort. Kuo, whose left elbow has already had four operations, has pitched only two innings this spring, each time coming up sore and requiring at least a week to recover.
"Nothing felt real bad, but it wasn't real good," manager Joe Torre said about Kuo, who tried to play catch for the third consecutive day. "We don't know how long. I don't think it's for an extended time. It didn't feel as good as he wants it to feel."
Kuo struggles through Spring Training discomfort nearly every season. Last year, when the pain went away, so did his control. He was on the disabled list at the end of April and missed a total of three months with what amounted to the yips, unable to throw catchable pitches, let alone strikes. But he battled back from that and had a 2.19 ERA after the All-Star break.
As for Martin, he is still sounding confident he'll be ready for Opening Day, having recovered quickly from a pulled groin muscle. After catching four innings in a Minor League game Thursday, he rebounded to catch six more Friday and go 2-for-6 leading off each inning of a Minor League game.
He won't play Saturday, but said he's expecting to play in the Major League game Sunday.
"I'll be ready," he predicted. "It depends on how I feel and all that, but we're flirting with the idea. For me, it's [the injury] gone. They say you never know with this injury, I still have to be careful, stay under control. But there's nothing that makes me feel uncomfortable."
Torre, who watched Martin instead of the Major League game, couldn't argue.
"Russell seemed fine," said Torre, who said the decision on playing Martin Sunday hinges on whether management believes he'll need to start the season on the disabled list, in which case it would be done retroactively and playing Sunday would extend the 15-day stay.
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Torre said he was further relieved with his catching situation because Brad Ausmus returned from a week of back spasms to catch the first three innings Friday against Kansas City, getting a hit and scoring a run.
Ausmus said he felt fine afterward and had "no worries at all" that he would be ready to catch nine innings by Opening Day if needed.
Before the game, Torre came very close to declaring Blake DeWitt the primary second baseman.
DeWitt added two more hits Friday to raise his spring average to .372. Of course, it's his defense that has the jury still out, although Torre made clear that he's leaning to at least starting the season with DeWitt his second baseman.
"No question, Blake DeWitt has been very impressive," said Torre. "I certainly wouldn't be afraid of playing him there. I did it when he was 1 1/2 years younger. I'm not concerned with can he handle it. He's not the prototype second baseman. Last year we made the club better with how we played defense. He'll catch the ball. It's just the stuff you're used to doing around second base."
That would be the stuff that got Orlando Hudson another Gold Glove last year, so fairly or not, that's the benchmark to which DeWitt will be measured. Nobody's expecting a Gold Glove, but he's already committed three errors on routine plays and that's where the staff will quickly lose patience once the games count.
The only qualifier for DeWitt is that the Dodgers do have options on him if they need to open a roster spot while not risking the loss of the player, and they have a pair of veterans who can play second base in Jamey Carroll and Ronnie Belliard.
Torre said the club is no closer to a decision on whether to carry 11 or 12 pitchers, but he indicated the club is not actively looking for help from the outside, where recent cuts Brian Shouse and Chad Gaudin have joined free agent Braden Looper.
"We haven't talked about anybody else," Torre said.
But he'd like to see Rule 5 pick Carlos Monasterios pitch on back-to-back days. Without Ronald Belisario, the bullpen needs a durable arm, especially if Charlie Haeger becomes the fifth starter. Justin Miller, who pitched well for the Giants last year before needing elbow surgery, is in that mix, as is Ramon Ortiz.
Miller is one of a handful of Dodgers that have out clauses granting free agency if they are not on the Major League roster by a certain date. Among them: Garret Anderson (April 4), Nick Green (April 4), Doug Mientkiewicz (April 2), Miller (May 1), Ramon Ortiz (April 4), Josh Towers (June 15), Jeff Weaver (April 4).
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.