Pitchers and Catchers reported to Dodgers Spring Training today, and it didn’t take long for new manager Don Mattingly to announce his opening day starter. The 2011 season is already off to a better start than 2010 as Clayton Kershaw will get the opening day nod which Joe Torre inexplicably gave to Vincente Padilla last year, and we all remember how well that worked out.
In total 36 players were set to report today, however only 35 actually made it. In what is becoming an annual saga, Ronald Belisario failed to show up to camp on time AGAIN, however this years version comes with a twist. According to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com no one seems to know exactly where he is and they don’t really seem to care either. This after he supposedly lost his beer gut and dominated the Venezuelan winter league. Someone will benefit from his absence by making the opening day roster but who will that someone be?
29 pitchers, 19 of whom are presently on the 40 man roster, will begin the battle in earnest at tomorrow’s first full workout for the 11 or possibly 12 pitchers roster spots. This much we know. The starting rotation following Kershaw should be Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda and Jon Garland. Reason number 2 why 2011 is already off to a better start, Dodger Nation isn’t waiting on pins and needles wondering what steaming pile of dog excrement will be the teams 5th starter like we were a year ago.
This is the deepest, most experienced rotation the Dodgers have had in years and is a major upgrade over 2010, which will also help the bullpen by having them throw fewer innings. My primary concern however is the age of starters 3-5 (35, 36, 31) and the amount of innings Lilly and Garland have logged, but that is nitpicking as Lilly (8) and Garland (9) are 2 of only a very small group of pitchers to currently have 8 straight 10+ win seasons, only CC Sabathia has a longer current streak of 10 straight.
With the starting 5 set there should be 6 or 7 spots up for grabs in the bullpen, and not to be redundant but this years group represents a significant upgrade over last years pile of…Padilla, Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and newly acquired Matt Guerrier are locks. Those of you not familiar with Guerrier may be wondering why the Dodgers gave him the 3rd highest contract they have ever given a reliever. His 311.2 IP since 2007 is tops among ALL major league relievers and his 58 Holds the past 2 years is tops in all of MLB.
After last season Dodger fans may have forgotten what a hold actually is, but someone like Guerrier or Kuo who can pitch the 7th or 8th, in a save situation will prove to be invaluable and quite literally the difference between making the playoffs or not. Let’s just hope those 300+ innings the past 4 years don’t catch up to him anytime soon.
So our total of locks to make the pitching staff sits at 9, and this is where things get interesting and quite frankly we may not know the final 2 or 3 spots until literally the Freeway Series vs the Angels in late March. However, it’s never too early to speculate. After his meteoric rise from converted catcher in 2009, to earning the save by striking out the side in the final game of 2010, Kenley Jansen has to be given a spot. Mattingly challenged Jansen to show up to camp in better shape, he did just that, he is a power arm and you can never have enough power arms coming out of the pen, he gets my spot 10.
Spots 11 and 12 could go to any of the following: Blake Hawksworth, Ramon Troncoso, Travis Schlichting, or lefties Scott Elbert and 40 yr old Ron Mahay, who is coming off of rotator cuff surgery, or someone not listed who comes completely out of no where ala Belisario 2 years ago. BTW Jeff Weaver to the Dodgers rumors are already popping up due to Belisario’s visa issue. The thought of Weaver pitching for the Dodgers again makes me want to throw up all over myself.
The Dodgers traded specifically to get Hawksworth, who also happens to be out of options, so I think he sticks. Elbert apparently ‘found himself’ during his 3 month unexplained leave of absence last year, and pitched well in the Arizona Fall League, under the watchful eye of Mattingly. I think he wins the final spot with a solid spring. All in all this group looks to be one of the better ‘Pens in all of baseball and if you believe our new Manager, he has all of the confidence in the world that Big Bad Broxton’s 2nd half slump was mental, and the former All-Star will be back closing games with high 90′s heat and a nasty slider. Imagine what he could do if someone taught him how to throw a changeup.
2 names to watch who could really help offset injuries and show up at Chavez Ravine sometime during the summer. 2009 2nd round pick Josh Lindblom. The organization finally gave up on trying to convert the once dominant Purdue closer into a starter, and word on the streets is he’s back up in the mid 90′s. A strong start in AAA should earn him a promotion in 2011 when the injury bug bites.
Finally, I may be a year early but remember the name Rubby De La Rosa, my favorite Dodger pitching prospect. The 21 year old from Santo Domingo, listed at 6’1 170lbs burst onto the scene in 2010, jumped all the way to AA where he actually improved his overall numbers by posting a ridiculous 1.41 ERA in 51 IP. He throws in the high 90′s, scouts rave how he maintains velocity as the game wears on, and dare I say he’s being compared to a young Pedro Martinez, only Rubby throws harder. He’s probably a 2012 arrival but if the Dodgers are in the thick of things in late August and he hasn’t piled up too many innings you never know. Look at what K Rod did for the Angels when they won the series, look at what Joba did for the Yankees in 2007, look at what Neftali Feliz did for the Rangers in 2009, I’m just saying stranger things have happened.
So Dodger Nation what do you think of your 2011 pitching candidates? Stay tuned tomorrow as Mike breaks down the Dodger infield which is full of its own battles.
Topics: 2010, Blake Hawksworth, CC Sabathia, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers Pitching Staff, Don Mattingly, Hiroki Kuroda, Hong-Chih Kuo, Jeff Weaver, Joe Torre, Jon, Jon Garland, Josh Lindblom, Kenley Jansen, Matt Guerrier, Ramon Troncoso, Ronald Belisario, Rubby De La Rosa, Scott Elbert, Ted Lilly, Vicente Padilla