Dodgers cut bullpen candidates

Dodgers cut bullpen candidates

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Dodgers' bullpen situation became somewhat clearer Monday when the club cut four candidates, most notably the two remaining situational left-handers, Kelly Wunsch and Tim Hamulack.

Wunsch, an incumbent who is in camp on a Minor League contract, said he would accept a reassignment to Triple-A Las Vegas. Hamulack was optioned to Las Vegas, as were D.J. Houlton and Jonathan Broxton. There are 34 players remaining in camp.

The demoted players were told the club plans to start the season with 11 pitchers. Dodgers skipper Grady Little said management is leaning that way, but "not locked into 11 or 12, to tell you the truth. We've still got a tough decision to make. If things are running normal [with no injuries], it's really tough for me to work with 12 pitchers."

Long relief candidates Brian Meadows and Aaron Sele still are in camp, and Little said he wants a long reliever on the staff. Management apparently believes one of them might be needed to balance a bullpen that consists mostly of short relievers, even though fifth starter Jae Seo will be in the bullpen during the first five games of the season.

From all indications, the bullpen will consist of Eric Gagne, Danys Baez, Lance Carter and Hong-Chih Kuo. The final two spots would come from a group including Yhency Brazoban, Franquelis Osoria, Sele and Meadows.

Osoria has been the most impressive of the group this spring, although a month ago he would have been considered a long shot to make the club over Brazoban. The latter has been fighting off shoulder soreness this spring, but passed his first test of back-to-back games by throwing a scoreless inning Monday.

"I think he's healthy by the way the ball is coming out of his hand. He's ready to go," said Little.

Kuo is the only left-hander in the group, but he is not considered a situational pitcher because he can pitch multiple innings and actually is more effective against right-handed hitters.

Meadows is a journeyman most familiar with the unique demands made on a long reliever. Sele, who has more Major League victories than any pitcher in camp, is in the mix even though he has been almost exclusively a starting pitcher.

Wunsch was the Dodgers' situational left-hander last year until requiring ankle and hip surgery. He had a 6.00 ERA in six spring innings.

"I wasn't shocked, but that doesn't mean I'm not disappointed," said Wunsch, who not only was recovering from the operations but was slowed by a tender shoulder the past week.

"Kuo pitched his butt off. If they're going to take only one of us, do they take the guy who gets guys out on both sides or the guy who faces nothing but lefties? So I'm not shocked. I knew this might happen. But I know I'm a big-league pitcher. I have to go out and prove it to them. I'll go to Vegas, and I'll be pitching for them and 29 other clubs. They need to see that I'm durable."

Hamulack, acquired from the Mets in the Seo trade, had a 2.00 ERA in 10 innings. This is his 11th professional season, and he's never made a club out of Spring Training.

"I'm not surprised. That's the way it always is," Hamulack said. "Maybe a month into the season they'll need some help."

Houlton, who will start for Las Vegas, had a 5.14 ERA in 14 innings and showed improvement over the last two weeks after a rocky start.

"They told me to go down and pitch good and be ready when they need a sixth guy," said Houlton, who spent the entire 2005 season in the Major Leagues as a Rule 5 Draft pick. "I think I pitched very well. I thought I had as good a chance as anyone, but the five starting spots were locked up. I thought I had a shot at the long relief role, but starting is more comfortable."

Broxton had a 5.68 ERA in seven innings. He will be a closer in Las Vegas, but he also will be asked to stretch out to two innings in preparation for a middle relief role should he be recalled during the season.

Little said he wouldn't be surprised to see each of the four in Los Angeles at some point this year.

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