Dodgers look to non-roster hurlers
Club has holes to fill after eight pitchers left via free agency
PHOENIX -- Nobody paid much attention to Takashi Saito three years ago when he was a non-roster pitcher invited to Major League Spring Training with the Dodgers. Or Chan Ho Park last year.
But from Jose Lima to Wilson Alvarez, from Darren Dreifort to Steve Howe and Saito to Rudy Seanez and Park, the Dodgers have seen such long shots make the club and impact a season.
This year's list is loaded with familiar names, particularly Jeff Weaver, Shawn Estes and Eric Milton. Those three alone have combined for 281 Major League wins and $108 million in career earnings.
The non-roster invitees have varied backgrounds. Sometimes they are retread veterans trying to extend a career. Sometimes they are raw prospects stepping up to show they have matured faster than expected.
Park was both. He made the club in 1994 as a 20-year-old straight from South Korea, and after just missing the roster out of Spring Training last year, turned into the latest reclamation project as an effective middle reliever.
The Dodgers opened their new Arizona training camp this spring with 16 non-roster pitchers. That's more than usual, but the Dodgers have holes to fill after losing eight free-agent pitchers. Non-roster pitchers could fill the fifth-starter's role and as many as three relief jobs. Eleven of the non-roster pitchers have Major League experience. None is a top young prospect and three (Yhency Brazoban, Tanyon Sturtze and Jacobo Meque) were in the Dodgers' system last year.
The following are capsules on the non-roster pitchers invited to camp:
Ronald Belisario, 26, RHP: Where is he? Still in Venezuela with visa issues. He is 27-30 with 20 saves and a 4.00 ERA in 167 Minor League games. He was in the Pittsburgh organization last year and has no Major League service.
Yhency Brazoban, 28, RHP: Once a promising closer, his last three seasons have been destroyed by injuries and he's already got a sore shoulder this spring. He missed the majority of the 2008 season after right shoulder labrum surgery and had Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2006. He appeared in two games with the Dodgers last year and made 25 other appearances with Triple-A Las Vegas, Double-A Jacksonville, the Gulf Coast League Dodgers and the Dominican Summer League Dodgers. He was acquired in the Kevin Brown trade, and in 2005, he led the Dodgers with 21 saves.
Carmen Cali, 30, LHP: He's one of a group trying to win the second lefty bullpen job Joe Beimel filled last year. He has played parts of three Major League seasons in 2004-05 (Cardinals) and 2007 (Twins), posting a 6.55 ERA in a combined 50 games and spent the entire 2008 season with Minnesota's Triple-A Rochester club, going 5-1 with two saves and a 4.52 ERA in 50 games (two starts).
Travis Chick, 24, RHP: He's 40-38 with a 4.26 ERA in 166 Minor League games (121 starts). He spent the majority of the 2008 season with Seattle's Double-A West Tennessee club, and ended the season with Triple-A Tacoma, where he went 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA in five starts. The 24-year-old appeared in three games with the Mariners in 2006 for his lone Major League experience. This is his fifth organization in eight seasons. He had surgery for an elbow bone spur in 2007.
Nick DeBarr, 25, RHP: He went 7-5 with one save and a 4.73 ERA in 50 games in 2008 in his Triple-A debut with Tampa Bay's Durham affiliate. He is 30-26 with 14 saves and a 4.10 ERA in 210 Minor League games (39 starts) over six seasons. He had Tommy John surgery in 2005.
Shawn Estes, 36, LHP: He's a 13-year Major League veteran fighting for the fifth-starter's spot. The left-hander is 101-93 with a 4.71 ERA in 283 games (281 starts). He spent the first seven seasons of his big league career with San Francisco, where he went 64-50 with a 4.25 ERA in 160 starts. He was a National League All-Star in his first full season in the Majors in 1997, when he went 19-5 with a 3.18 ERA in 32 starts. He had Tommy John surgery in 2007 and broke his pitching thumb in a fall last year.
Charlie Haeger, 25, RHP: Nice story. He has pitched in parts of three Major League seasons with the White Sox (2006-07) and Padres (2008), going 1-2 with one save and a 6.35 ERA in 19 games (one start). He is 46-56 with a 3.92 ERA in 158 Minor League games (118 starts). He retired in 2003, came back to play independent ball and revived his career by becoming a knuckleballer in 2003 and going 29-12 the next two seasons.
Edgar Martinez, 27, RHP: He was converted to a pitcher in 2004 after spending the first four-plus years of his career as a catcher. He spent the past two seasons with Boston's Triple-A Pawtucket club and went 8-3 with a 3.89 ERA in 33 games in 2008, but after becoming a starter last June, he went 7-2 with a 3.28 ERA (29 ER/79.2 IP) in 16 starts.
Brian Mazone, 32, LHP: Another great story. He spent five seasons playing independent ball from 1999-2004, one year in Korea and has played professionally for 11 seasons. He went 9-12 with a 4.10 ERA in 28 starts with Philadelphia's Triple-A Lehigh Valley club in 2008. He missed 2001 with shoulder surgery.
Jacobo Meque, 25, LHP: This will be his third straight season in the Dodgers' organization, going 3-1 with 12 saves and a 3.19 ERA in a combined 39 games with Class A Inland Empire and Double-A Jacksonville in 2008. He missed the entire 2005 season when he went home after being assigned to Class A.
Eric Milton, 33, LHP: Milton is a 10-year Major League veteran who hasn't pitched since mid-2007 because of Tommy John surgery. He also missed most of 2003 with knee surgery. Milton was an American League All-Star in 2001 with Minnesota, when he won 15 games, and he threw a no-hitter against the Angels in 1999.
Steven Randolph, 34, LHP: He played at Triple-A for Philadelphia and Houston last year. Born in Japan, he played parts of three Major League seasons with Arizona and Houston. Randolph limited left-handed hitters to a .115 average (9-for-78) in 2008 and a .174 mark (61-for-350) against them over his past four Minor League seasons. He had shoulder labrum surgery in 2000.
Scott Strickland, 32, RHP: He last appeared in the Majors in 2005 with Houston, but he once was a bullpen workhorse for the Montreal Expos (1999-2002) and the New York Mets (2002-03) until undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2003. He spent all of 2008 with the Yankees' Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre club, going 4-0 with 12 saves and a 3.53 ERA in 52 appearances.
Tanyon Sturtze, 38, RHP: A Joe Torre favorite and veteran of 12 Major League seasons and 272 big league games (84 starts), Sturtze is 40-44 with three saves and a 5.19 ERA. He returned to the big league mound with the Dodgers in 2008 after missing nearly the entire 2007 season while recovering from right rotator cuff surgery. He appeared in three games with the Dodgers in August after beginning the year with Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A Las Vegas. He threw four complete games and 224 innings for Tampa Bay in 2002.
Erick Threets, 27, LHP: He made San Francisco's Opening Day roster in 2008 and appeared in seven games before going on the 15-day disabled list with a right intercostal muscle strain, spending the rest of the year in the Minor Leagues after he healed. He is 0-1 with 6.57 ERA in 10 Major League appearances with the Giants over the past two seasons. He had labrum surgery in 2004.
Jeff Weaver, 32, RHP: He is a veteran of nine Major League seasons, including two with the Dodgers from 2004-05 after being acquired from the Yankees in the Kevin Brown deal. He went 27-24 with a 4.11 ERA in 68 Dodgers starts. He is 93-114 with a 4.72 ERA in 284 career games. He hit hard times after leaving the Dodgers, helped St. Louis win the World Series in 2006, but spent all of 2008 in the Minor Leagues. He's now able to relieve and could be a replacement for swingman Park.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.