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03/18/11 9:20 PM ET

De La Rosa on a fast track to LA

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rubby De La Rosa held the defending World Series champion Giants hitless for four innings Friday and drew comparisons to the fast-arriving Clayton Kershaw.

That doesn't mean De La Rosa will make the Dodgers' Opening Day roster this year, more likely beginning the season at Double-A. But as a non-roster prospect that already has two spring starts, it looks as if his arrival in Los Angeles will be sooner than later.

"What's not to like about him?" pitching coach Rick Honeycutt asked.

When asked if De La Rosa was reminiscent of Kershaw, Honeycutt said: "Yeah, he's got a lot of positives. A plus arm, 'pitchability.' A little wild with the fastball at times, but he always came back. The changeup is filthy. If I had that, I wouldn't throw anything else. But he can throw 97 [mph]. The one thing is throwing consistently for strikes. But a 20-year-old won't have everything figured out."

He's figured out not to be intimidated by the defending champions.

"Champions last year," he said. "Not this year."

De La Rosa is now 22, having signed out of the Dominican Republic at 18. But his demeanor and thoughtfulness make him wise beyond his years.

Although he was named the organization's Pitcher of the Year in 2010, De La Rosa has had to earn what he has.

One of "many" siblings from parents that never married or parented, De La Rosa was raised from birth in Santo Domingo by his grandmother, who is now 71 and not healthy enough to come to America to see him play.

He never watched baseball or played it until he was 15. He was too busy to play, working in a food warehouse as the sole provider for the family when he wasn't attending school.

"We were very poor," said De La Rosa, who was 5-foot-8 and 128 pounds when he signed but now is 6-1, 185. "My family is very modest, but really respectful. I wanted to play, but it was more important to go to school and work."

That all changed when the Dodgers signed him in 2007 for $15,000, which would be tip money for the American-born first-rounders that he's passed on the organization depth chart. What the windfall didn't change was his work ethic and serious approach to his profession.

"I think working when I was young helped me a great deal in baseball," he said. "Not only work ethic for myself, but in working to help the rest of my family. Right now I feel the same way. I'm not just working for me, but I'm working to support my family.

"I always was the man of the family. I had to support all of us. My brothers and sisters looked up to me to be a good example. It was more a survival sense that I had to be responsible for them."

He is determined to be a successful ballplayer and not afraid of challenges. In the mornings when he's not doing non-throwing delivery work on a mound, he's taking English classes from club interpreter Kenji Nimura.

De La Rosa takes responsibility seriously and he cautions ballplayers that don't.

"The game is fun and I enjoy it, but you have to separate the seriousness too," he said. "It's fun, but at the same time when there's a lot of money, it tends to take away from other aspects of life. I see so many people in the Major Leagues and the Minor Leagues fall for that and they don't take the game seriously."

De La Rosa spent his first two professional seasons in the Dominican Summer League, crediting Campo Las Palmas pitching coach Kremlin Martinez for teaching him the basics. In 2009, he came to the United States and pitched five games in the Arizona Rookie League before being sent home after an alleged run-in with a team trainer.

It is the only blemish on his record and one he disputes.

"I never said what they said I said. I've always been respectful," said De La Rosa. "It was a bunch of lies that I did not say, really ugly things that weren't true. But when I came back last year, I just decided to forget what happened. I didn't want to dwell on it. I wanted to concentrate on my job."

On the job, he had a breakthrough season. He was 4-1 with a 3.19 ERA at Class A Great Lakes, blossoming after being moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation and earning a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga, where he was even better -- 3-1, 1.41.

This spring, he's allowed two runs in 10 innings for a 1.80 ERA with seven strikeouts and three walks (all Friday).

"It's really surprising I came this far so quickly," he said. "I never expected to have the season I did last year. Having said that, I know what tools I have and I work hard to get better every day."

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