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03/17/09 8:50 PM ET

Pedro talk persists in Dodgers camp

Speculation increases the longer LA goes without fifth starter

PHOENIX -- Before one of the Dominican Republic's recent World Baseball Classic games, Pedro Martinez told Tom Lasorda and scouting advisor Ralph Avila he wanted to finish his career where it started, with the Dodgers.

"That's what he said," said Lasorda, Martinez's former manager. "I don't know, it was just conversation."

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The longer the Dodgers go without a clear-cut No. 5 starter, the more conversation about Martinez occurs.

Manny Ramirez said he called Martinez on Sunday morning after hearing media reports that Martinez might be coming to the Dodgers.

"He said he has two options," said Ramirez. "I don't know what he's going to do. He has to do what's best for him."

The two options most often speculated are the Dodgers, his original team, and the Mets, his most recent team. The Mets have said they won't sign him. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti left the door open slightly when he said "a lot of things would have to fall into place."

Foremost, presumably, is the pitcher's asking price, which is more along the lines of a Cy Young winner (which he was, three times) than a fifth starter (which he would be for the Dodgers).

Martinez, who has earned $146 million in his career, reportedly wants a contract similar to the one another former Cy Young winner, John Smoltz, received from Boston -- $5.5 million guaranteed with nearly another $5 million if he stays healthy.

The Dodgers are believed willing to pay Martinez more along the lines of a fifth starter, with a modest guarantee plus incentives. They are concerned about his three years of health problems. They've seen in the Classic games that Martinez has added a slurve to his repertoire of pitches and he has command around the plate, but his fastball only occasionally sneaks past 90 mph.

It was good enough against The Netherlands. How it plays at age 37 in the National League is the question, especially after he went 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA with the Mets last year.

Even Pedro's older brother, Ramon, isn't sure where he'll land. Ramon started working with the Dodgers' Minor League pitchers Tuesday.

"He said he would like to come back," said Ramon, a former 20-game winner for the Dodgers. "He would be very good with the young pitchers."

The Dodgers are counting on so many young pitchers this year -- Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Cory Wade -- that they would prefer the fifth starter have a few more lines of service time on the back of his baseball card.

So far, though, the Dodgers aren't much closer to finding a fifth starter from the in-house candidates than they were when camp opened, as manager Joe Torre conceded Tuesday. Other than three scoreless innings from Eric Stults in a Saturday "B" game, a flurry of recent outings really hasn't narrowed the field of contenders because nobody has pitched well enough to take the job.

"It's not crunch time yet," Torre said. "We still have a lot of bodies here, and we're trying to find out roles. There's a lot of guys sensing decisions have to be made."

Torre declined to even name the candidates, although from what he's said in the past, they are: lukewarm favorite Eric Milton, Claudio Vargas, Shawn Estes and Stults.

Torre said he's most familiar with Milton, who was a Yankees Minor Leaguer under Torre and has the experience.

"I have firsthand knowledge about his makeup," Torre said. "You want somebody you feel keeps his wits about him. I don't think Eric is the kind of pitcher who beats himself and gets overwhelmed by the situation."

Jason Schmidt won't be ready by the start of the season for a starter's job, Torre said, and he needs too much time to loosen up to be considered for a bullpen job. Jeff Weaver is now considered only for relief.

Rookie James McDonald, once considered likely for a relief job and possibly a starter, now is in jeopardy of not even making the club. He's been slow to make in-game adjustments when he struggles this spring, and the thinking is that McDonald needs to pitch regularly to improve. The erratic usage of a middle reliever might hinder his advancement. He allowed four runs in 1 2/3 innings Tuesday and has a 7.71 ERA.

"Do we question his ability? No," Torre said of McDonald before Tuesday's game. "We have to question, is he going to get enough work to have him make sense? We think highly of him, and he showed in the postseason he can handle the heat."

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