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03/23/09 10:41 AM ET

Dodgers focus on fifth starter, bench

Torre needs versatile infielders to help give Furcal, Hudson breaks

PHOENIX -- If they all could make adjustments like Randy Wolf. He allowed seven runs on 10 hits Tuesday, worked on a mechanical flaw in the bullpen Thursday, then one-hit the Rangers over six scoreless innings Sunday (plus added a two-run double).

For most ballplayers, it's not that easy. That's why, with two weeks until Opening Day, the Dodgers are still auditioning an ever-changing list of fifth-starter candidates.

Manager Joe Torre said two of them -- Eric Stults and James McDonald -- will get starts Wednesday and Thursday, while two others -- Claudio Vargas and Eric Milton -- will relieve.

The fifth starter remains one Dodgers focal point, although Torre acknowledged that the puzzle pieces of his bench are "taking a lot of my time to figure out."

Assuming the Dodgers carry 12 pitchers, two catchers and there are no trades, Juan Pierre is likely the fourth outfielder and Mark Loretta the primary pinch-hitter "against righties or lefties," Torre said. If Loretta's role is pinch-hitting, Torre needs versatile infielders so Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson are able to take breaks as they return from operations.

Probably two will make the club from a group of youngsters Blake DeWitt and Chin-lung Hu and veterans Juan Castro and Doug Mientkiewicz. The latter seems to be in a strong position despite his late signing and a week off with a quad strain because Torre is familiar with him from the Yankees and "he has the kind of personality you want around for sure," Torre said. "He's a good guy in the clubhouse. He's fun." Luis Maza is still technically alive, although he's been absent while playing for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.

But Mientkiewicz's presence could squeeze out switch-hitting pinch-hitter Delwyn Young, who is out of options. Torre also said "it doesn't seem like we have room for another outfielder at this point," not good news for Jason Repko, who slugged a three-run homer Sunday, or rookie Xavier Paul, who is having a big Spring Training.

Of DeWitt, Hu and Castro, DeWitt is more an offensive player and the least likely the club wants sitting around on a big league bench. Hu has had a good spring and he's a natural shortstop, while Castro is the defensive specialist.

As Torre pointed out, however, at least he doesn't have to worry about his first four starting pitchers and Wolf reaffirmed that he's back on track after last week's aberration, the only time he's allowed runs in five "A" games.

"I didn't like the way I was throwing last time and I worked with [pitching coach Rick] Honeycutt on my arm angle, just a small adjustment to get it higher, but it definitely helped out a bit," said Wolf, the first Dodgers pitcher to go six innings this spring.

As for the bullpen, Torre downplayed concern over the struggles of two relievers he's counting on -- Hong-Chih Kuo and Cory Wade -- each allowing a home run in an inning Sunday. Guillermo Mota has been the most consistent, adding another clean inning and lowering his ERA to 1.13, while closer Jonathan Broxton will finally return next week from the World Baseball Classic.

There will be three remaining bullpen jobs to be filled. Among the prominent contenders are the losers of the fifth-starter competition, Jeff Weaver, Brian Mazone, Tanyon Sturtze, Erick Threets, Ramon Troncoso, Scott Elbert and the new buzz of camp, 21-year-old Josh Lindblom.

As for the regular position players, Torre said he spoke Saturday with outfielder Andre Ethier, who went 0-for-5 and is hitting .188, asking him to dial down his Spring Training self-criticism.

"He's beating himself up," Torre said. "He's wearing himself out too much. You love the passion, but you don't need to do that. He's in that punishment mode. He's too good a hitter. He'll get it straightened out. It's Spring Training. He's putting unnecessary pressure on himself. It's his personality, but it takes its toll."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.