© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
VIERA, Fla. -- After trimming his roster by seven, manager Grady Little said Monday he's now "comfortable" starting the season with an 11-man pitching staff.
That decision is influenced by many factors, including the presence of Chad Billingsley in the bullpen to pitch multiple innings and the number of position players making strong runs at perhaps two roster spots, among them James Loney, Wilson Valdez and Larry Bigbie (who had two hits and an RBI Monday).
The need for a second left-handed bat off the bench besides Marlon Anderson puts both Loney and Bigbie in play, as does Bigbie's ability to force his release next week if he is not on the Major League club. Valdez is out of options and the Dodgers likely would lose him on a waiver claim if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster. His ability to play center field along with middle-infield positions has further enhanced his value, especially after Jason Repko's latest injury.
Of the three, Little hinted that Loney could be aced out because the Dodgers have options remaining on him. Little also said a consideration would be the frequent debate about whether a top prospect is better served sitting on a Major League bench or playing every day in the Minor Leagues.
Loney, a Triple-A batting champ, seemingly has nothing left to prove in the Minor Leagues, but his path to a Major League first baseman's job is blocked by Nomar Garciaparra.
"We have to consider the number of at-bats we'd get James," said Little. "We don't want to slow him down and have him go backward and then something happens here and he has to jump in. He needs to be ready."
How the Dodgers would reduce their pitching staff to 11 will be a challenge. Eight spots seem spoken for -- starters Derek Lowe, Jason Schmidt, Brad Penny and Randy Wolf and relievers Takashi Saito, Jonathan Broxton, Joe Beimel and Billingsley.
One of three candidates for the fifth starter's job -- Brett Tomko, Hong-Chih Kuo and Mark Hendrickson -- will make it nine. Competing for the final two spots are the two fifth-starter also-rans and Elmer Dessens, Rudy Seanez and Chin-hui Tsao. Joe Mays is still in camp, but is considered exclusively a starter.
A trade would resolve one aspect of the numbers crunch. Hendrickson has a $2.925 million salary, while Dessens is guaranteed $1.7 million. Another possibility is the optioning of Billingsley to the Minor Leagues, although that is considered a long shot because he has allowed only one run in 9 1/3 innings. None of the pitchers has had a bad camp.
Wolf, Broxton lose to Nationals: Wolf struggled with his fastball and Broxton couldn't locate his splitter as the Dodgers lost to the Nationals, 9-1, in Viera, Fla.
Wolf allowed three runs and hit his 85-pitch limit in only 4 2/3 innings.
"I felt strong, but my fastball location was a little out of whack," said Wolf. "I feel really strong, maybe too strong. I was muscling up when I shouldn't."
Broxton didn't retire any of the five batters he faced, walking three, and all five scored, sending his ERA from 3.00 to 18.00.
"I didn't feel comfortable with my splitty," said the projected setup man. "I was falling behind guys and putting more pressure on myself."
On the plus side, Saito pitched a scoreless inning and Seanez pitched 1 1/3 innings following Wolf. Offensively, Bigbie, Garciaparra and Luis Gonzalez had two hits each.
Jason Repko's strained groin has improved enough that he was scheduled to play the outfield (defense only) in a Minor League intrasquad game Monday and offense only on Tuesday.
Blue Crew Fan Club:
Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, who burst onto the Major League scene last season, will serve as the leader of the Dodgers' Blue Crew Fan Club for the 2007 season. The Dodgers also announced the launch of their free kids club membership, becoming just one of a few teams in Major League baseball to offer a free kids membership in addition to their traditional basic Blue Crew package.
Schmidt has said he does not like to pitch simulated games, but that's what he'll be doing Tuesday on a back field so the Dodgers can start Hendrickson against St. Louis in what might double as an audition for the fifth starter's job and showcase for potential trade partners. Broxton will be joined by Saito in pitching on back-to-back days for the first time this spring.