Rice hoping to finally get the call
Veteran lefty not used to surviving past first cuts
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers have eight relievers still in camp contending for the lone unclaimed bullpen spot.
Long odds for sure, but one of the contenders is really no stranger to long odds.
Meet Scott Rice, who gained early fame in the clubhouse as a landslide winner of the "Dodgers Idol" talent competition for a hilarious song about Kenley Jansen. Gradually, he's also being noticed for his pitching.
He's easy to find in the Dodgers' clubhouse, and not just because he's 6-foot-6. His locker is located in the section assigned to players that are generally the first to be cut. Sure enough, eight lockers to his right are now empty, as are five lockers to his left.
But still there is Rice, a 30-year-old left-hander who has never thrown a Major League pitch or made a Major League 40-man roster. Everyone else still left in the competition has pitched in the Major Leagues, led by Jamey Wright with 13 years' experience.
"A lot of guys around me are gone," Rice said, looking over both shoulders. "It really is strange. I've always been on the other end. I've always been in the first round of cuts. They say baseball is all about timing, good and bad. Maybe it's my time."
Rice is scheduled for his next audition in Wednesday's exhibition game against the Padres. In four previous games this spring, he has pitched four scoreless innings with five strikeouts, zero walks and a save.
A former Orioles sandwich Draft pick out of Royal High School in Simi Valley, Calif., Rice is a Southland, Calif., product who spent his first five professional seasons as a starter. He actually signed a contract with the Dodgers in 2008, but was cut during Spring Training while trying to pitch through a sore arm. He hooked on with the Long Island Ducks that year until an injury was finally diagnosed as a torn flexor tendon that required surgery.
He was back in Independent League ball in 2009 with the Newark Bears before being picked up by the San Diego Padres and struggling to a 7.36 ERA in Double-A. He spent 2010 in the Minor Leagues with Colorado and was in Spring Training with the Cubs last March when he was released again.
The phone rang in June and it was the Dodgers again, offering a Double-A contract. He was lights-out in half a season at Chattanooga with a 1.95 ERA, earning another Minor League contract and his first ever big-league invite.
How can he make it this year if never before?
"I finally know what kind of pitcher I am," he said. "Before, I had no identity. I've got to get ground balls, stay low in the zone and ahead of hitters. Before, I didn't throw strikes. My arm slot was inconsistent." The Dodgers have used nine pitchers so far this spring. Rice remains one of three lefties still alive -- Wil Ledezma was wild Tuesday and John Grabow is expected to pitch Wednesday with Rice.
There is no guarantee the Dodgers will even keep a second lefty behind Scott Elbert. Of the righties, Ramon Troncoso -- hit hard by the Brewers Tuesday -- is out of options. Wright is coming off a solid season with Seattle last year and the last long-reliever spot was generally assumed to be his to lose. Angel Guzman has pitched better than Wright, including another scoreless inning Tuesday. Fernando Nieve, who pitched in Korea last year, also is alive and has Major League experience.
"Chuck Crim [Chattanooga's pitching coach] was telling me the first time he made the Angels, he was a non-roster invite and was the last guy in the row, all by himself," Rice said. "It's something to take pride in. You're against the odds a little.
"All I'm trying to do is make an impression. This game is like a carousel. No matter where you start the season, anything can happen. So I don't think about the business side, about options and contracts. All I do is compete every day and see what happens."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.