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03/17/10 8:52 PM ET

Monasterios making name with Dodgers

Little-known Rule 5 pick vying to land spot on LA's staff

PHOENIX -- Carlos Monasterios isn't well known even in baseball circles. But a year ago neither was Ronald Belisario, who found jumping from Double-A to the Dodgers' bullpen last season a lot easier than getting a visa this season.

With Belisario still absent and Monasterios a Rule 5 pick who either sticks or is certain to be lost, the latter might make the same jump from Double-A for Opening Day, in effect replacing Belisario on the Dodgers' pitching staff.

Monasterios, who turns 24 on Sunday, pitched three hitless innings in the Dodgers' 5-1 loss to the White Sox Wednesday. That gives Monasterios eight shutout innings this spring, allowing only two hits with five strikeouts and two walks. The only flaw in his game is a pair of errant throws to first base.

"He has a nice presence," manager Joe Torre said. "He's very aggressive. I like what I see."

Torre didn't rule out the fifth starter role for Monasterios, even though management usually prefers veterans.

"He hasn't done anything wrong," Torre said. "We have four starters that, to me, our fifth spot, just go out and pitch, you know what I mean? We're not asking him to carry any load, but just give us a chance to win."

The Dodgers will need a fifth starter once in the first 2 1/2 weeks of the season, so they could open the season with 11 pitchers, according to Torre. For that reason, someone like Monasterios who can also pitch relief is a fit.

Candidates for the fifth starter appear to have been whittled to Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz, Eric Stults and Monasterios (Scott Elbert and James McDonald pitched themselves out of the competition). Russ Ortiz started Wednesday's game and allowed two runs in four innings, but drew praise from Torre for escaping further damage.

"He wasn't sharp, but he minimized the damage," he said. "He can throw off-speed pitches behind in the count. He did that against us last year. I don't know how he wiggles off the hook. He is patient, he doesn't panic."

Montasterios, by contrast, doesn't even get on the hook. He's having one of those remarkable springs for someone who has pitched only two games above the Class A level.

Monasterios is a real late bloomer. He said he never picked up a baseball until he was 17, in fact played no sports of any kind. Instead, he was a house painter with his father until his father, a former semipro player in Venezuela, suggested Carlos try the sport. Two years later he was signed out of the sandlots by the Yankees, who traded the right-hander in 2006 to the Phillies in the Bobby Abreu deal.

He spent 3 1/2 seasons with the Phillies, mostly at Class A, with two games in a late promotion to Double-A last season. Then he was left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft. In an arranged deal, the Mets drafted Monasterios and sold him to the Dodgers, who were interested on the recommendation of scout Ron Rizzi, who saw Monasterios pitch in the Venezuelan winter league. That's where Rizzi found Belisario a year earlier.

To complete the circle, Monasterios said he's friends with Belisario from winter ball, although they play on different teams.

"I called him two days ago and left a message. He hasn't called back," said Monasterios.

Monasterios uses a sinking fastball and a breaking ball, but pitching coach Rick Honeycutt is impressed with the changeup, which Monasterios confidently uses in any count.

"It's a huge pitch, when you have that confidence and command," Honeycutt said. "He's interesting. Very interesting."

Making the Dodgers as a Rule 5 pick, however, is not easy. Since 1981, the Dodgers have selected 10 players in the Draft, which makes unprotected players available to any club willing to pay $50,000. Of those 10, only three -- Frank Lankford in 1998, Jose Nunez in 2001 and D.J. Houlton in 2005 -- made the club for Opening Day. Houlton is the only one who spent his entire rookie season with the Major League club.

Of more interest, perhaps, are players the Dodgers did not protect. The poster boy for Rule 5 losses is Roberto Clemente, taken from the Dodgers by Pittsburgh in 1954. The Dodgers also lost John Wetteland to Detroit in 1987, but the Tigers returned him to the Dodgers and he went on to become one of the premier closers of the 1990s.

Rule 5 picks must remain in the Major Leagues with the selecting club for the entire first season to become the property of that team. Otherwise, the player must clear waivers and be offered back to his original club for a $25,000 fee before he can be sent to the Minor Leagues by the selecting team.

The Dodgers also drafted left-hander Armando Zerpa in the Rule 5 Draft in December, but returned him to Boston this week.

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