03/25/08 10:07 PM ET
Torre's plate full as club heads home
Issues still await club's new skipper as season draws near
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
He wrapped up the Cactus League portion of a vagabond Spring Training on Tuesday, heading home with more issues to resolve than he had when it started.
He hasn't succeeded in dividing four outfielders into three positions, or at least hasn't revealed his solution, as observers figure the best alignment won't include veteran Juan Pierre, who signed a five-year contract expecting to be the every-day center fielder.
With the acquisition of Andruw Jones, Pierre not only isn't the center fielder, he might not be an everyday player anymore, either. He hasn't talked about it, but Pierre's body language and the numerous meetings he's had with Torre indicate it's a simmering problem.
Then there are the injuries. Three infielders -- Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra and Andy LaRoche -- are out for varying stretches, forcing the Dodgers to contemplate an Opening Day lineup that could include names like Tony Abreu, Chin-lung Hu or even Blake DeWitt.
Kent did a second day of aggressive running on Tuesday, but remains maybe 50/50 to open the season on the active roster. By backdating his placement on the disabled list, the Dodgers could lose Kent for as few as four games. On the other hand, even at age 40 Kent is a gamer and seems to be improving daily since last week's cortisone injection.
Garciaparra is certain to be disabled with a broken hand. He still can't swing a bat and keeps the hand in a compression wrap to prevent further swelling. LaRoche won't return until mid-May after surgery for a torn thumb ligament.
"We haven't made up our minds totally," said Torre, who has a meeting scheduled for Thursday to discuss cuts.
Torre has repeatedly stressed how pitching is what makes it happen, but his staff has a couple questions. His closer, 38-year-old Takashi Saito -- hasn't been healthy enough to pitch more than four innings, although he returned to the mound Tuesday after missing Monday's game. His left-handed setup man, Joe Beimel, has a four-figure ERA. Third starter Chad Billingsley isn't far behind at 8.31.
Torre refuses to talk about how the ground-breaking China trip -- and the resulting training camp on two continents and in three states -- will impact his team's start. The flights to and from China were less of a hurdle than the decision (prompted by player concerns about too much travel) to relocate to Arizona after the Asian excursion.
Without having Florida-based Minor League teams handy, several of Torre's pitchers have been shorted necessary innings, particularly relievers that have been forced to pitch simulated games against teammates instead of true game action. In addition, Torre missed seven games, hindering his evaluations of players.
"Excuses don't do any good," said Torre. "You do what you need to do and move on."
Torre has essentially guaranteed roster spots to left-handed pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo and outfielder Delwyn Young because they are out of options and would risk being claimed by another club if the Dodgers tried to send them to the Minor Leagues.
Kuo has a 2.35 ERA, but his brittle elbow makes him ill-equipped for the ups and downs of relief. Young is a pure hitter who hasn't hit (.170 with a double Tuesday) this spring. Management has indicated it is more likely to find short-term subs for Kent and Garciaparra internally with Abreu, Hu and/or DeWitt.
"I think for the period of time we're talking, you have to feel you don't want to go out and mortgage what future you have," said Torre. "Obviously, our young players are in demand."
On the plus side, Torre has a deep rotation headed by Brad Penny and Derek Lowe, with Hiroki Kuroda representing a solid fourth starter. Torre also has a healthy Rafael Furcal who, with free agency pending, seems primed for a year like the one he had in 2006, when he was the club's best player. And he has a nucleus of young stars headed by All-Star catcher Russell Martin, with Andre Ethier having a monster spring and Matt Kemp and James Loney right behind.
Flying home after Tuesday's game, the Dodgers are off Wednesday. Management will meet and discuss the roster before Thursday night's game in Anaheim and the preseason concludes with three games against Boston, including the ThinkBlue fundraiser at the Coliseum Saturday night, with 113,000 tickets sold.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.