Locker awaits Manny at Dodgers camp
Slugger's free-agent limbo doesn't sour club's first workouts
PHOENIX -- Manny Ramirez stands out, even in absentia.There are 70 nameplates above lockers in the Dodgers' new clubhouse at Camelback Ranch-Glendale and one locker without a nameplate, in the corner next to Rafael Furcal. Guess who they're saving that one for.
General manager Ned Colletti said he had several conversations with agent Scott Boras this week, but there were no breakthroughs on the Manny front. That was about the only blemish Saturday on the Dodgers' long-awaited inaugural workout at the $80 million, 141-acre complex they will share with the Chicago White Sox.But Colletti was excited about the new facilities and how they will help the organization. "This is special," he said. "I don't think it falls short at all. Besides the layout and the facility, Arizona being so close to Southern California that it's great for the fan base. And the proximity to other teams in the Cactus League presents more opportunities to do baseball things. That's a key component." Manager Joe Torre put pitchers and catchers through their paces, admittedly more comfortable than he was a year ago when he took over a team he really didn't know. "At least I have an idea when I see a name, I can associate it with ability," said Torre. "Last year, I had to go on what I had heard. I'd like to have a little more in the bank. I'm much more comfortable." The site literally remains a work in progress, as hard-hat construction workers put the finishing touches on the facility, and the Dodgers had to improvise when they found, for example, that the pitchers' strings area doesn't have the proper background screen for the catchers. So, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt had pitchers throw bullpen sessions in the indoor batting cage area. Among those taking the mound were Chad Billingsley and his healing broken leg, Jason Schmidt and his surgically repaired shoulder, and non-roster veterans Jeff Weaver, Eric Milton and Shawn Estes. Torre revealed that catcher Russell Martin injured his left foot on Monday in a training incident but an MRI exam on Friday was negative and Martin was able to participate in most drills on Saturday. Right-hander Travis Schlichting was not as fortunate, having pulled a muscle in his lower back when he slipped while throwing off a mound earlier in the week. He has been shut down. Otherwise, the Dodgers are in relatively good health, and the presence of Billingsley and Schmidt throwing off the mound served to suppress concerns about their readiness. Schmidt was signed to be a staff ace, but having won one game in two injury-plagued seasons, if he can just hang on to the fifth-starter spot, the club will be pleased. Billingsley seems to be the heir-apparent ace with the departure of Derek Lowe, his 16 wins last season meaning more to Torre than the rough National League Championship Series he had against the Phillies. "I want to talk to him," Torre said of Billingsley. "This kid has such a good head on his shoulders. He's one of those guys, whichever game he pitches [to start the season], he'll put a great deal of responsibility on himself. I don't want him putting more weight on than he normally does. He would be the kind of guy who, all of a sudden, feels he has much more responsibility. But it's like when we play the Giants, now we're really going to try to win? How do you do that? Aren't you really trying to win against the Cubs?" Billingsley said he feels no pain in his landing leg after suffering a spiral fracture of the fibula in a November slip-and-fall on ice that required surgery to insert a plate and screws. "The first time I threw off the mound, I was kind of hesitant and had to get back the trust," he said. "The second time was normal. I haven't done a lot of running on the ground. It will be interesting to see how it reacts. But there's no soreness or inflammation. I trust it completely." Torre said among spring projects for the pitchers will be improving their bunting after what he saw last season. Honeycutt said he will have Weaver pitching multiple innings as a starter, even though he was signed with the intent of competing for a relief role. The combination makes him a candidate for the swingman role filled last year by Chan Ho Park. Rehabbing position players Furcal and Delwyn Young have permission to report early. Young was in camp Saturday, Furcal was not.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.