PHOENIX -- The first burning question of Spring Training will be answered on Wednesday, when Dodgers pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch-Glendale. Will Ronald Belisario be on time? Club officials say they don't know. When he was late with visa problems in 2009, nobody missed him, because nobody knew him. Coming off an unexpectedly effective rookie season, he was late again with visa problems in 2010, and a disastrous sophomore year followed that included a month-long drug rehab and a whopping three-run increase in his ERA. The domino effect resulted in the overuse of Ramon Troncoso, effectively costing the club two effective relievers.
So, the Dodgers are only hopeful Belisario will be on the field on Thursday for the first workout. The remainder of the position players report for physicals on Feb. 21 and the first full-squad workout is Feb. 22. The exhibition schedule opens for the Dodgers with split-squad road games Feb. 26 against the Angels and the Giants. Belisario wasn't the Dodgers' only problem last year, but he typified a team that went from first place to fourth place under Joe Torre.
Now, Don Mattingly is manager with a remodeled coaching staff that includes former fixture Davey Lopes, promising a tougher club, one that general manager Ned Colletti has challenged to show it can rebound from a losing record. Colletti has rectified one problem of a year ago. Instead of starting Spring Training without enough starting pitching, as he concedes he did a year ago, he's got too much, if there is such a thing. He has given Mattingly a collection of six legitimate starters -- Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla. The club has taken the position that Padilla will open camp as a willing reliever, although the right-hander arrived in Arizona last week, motivated to prove he's healthy again and determined to break camp in the rotation. It's the kind of competition both Colletti and Mattingly have said they welcome. At least until they must tell one of them he's now a reliever. Mattingly predicts that Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney and closer Jonathan Broxton are mentally ready to get their games back on track. He'll keep to a structured rest schedule for Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake and he intends to platoon in left field (Marcus Thames and Jay Gibbons) and catcher (Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro). The Dodgers thought they were set at those last two positions a year ago with Manny Ramirez and Russell Martin, but things aren't always what they seem. There really isn't a major injury rehab to worry about, although Padilla and Xavier Paul ended 2010 with neck injuries and Gibbons came home early from winter ball with blurred vision he insisted was minor. The key free agent added was infielder Juan Uribe, but Colletti also brought back Garland to eat innings, Navarro to push Barajas and added Thames to help make up for the power Ramirez was expected to provide a year ago. Disappointed with outfield defense last year, Colletti signed Tony Gwynn, who was non-tendered by San Diego. Colletti overpaid to keep Lilly and Kuroda in the rotation. And because he can't count on Belisario, he paid up to get Matt Guerrier with a three-year, $12 million contract, even though he slots in behind Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo, if not Kenley Jansen. If Belisario (who is out of options) and Padilla are also in the bullpen, there might be only one spot open for a group of contenders that includes Blake Hawksworth (also out of options), Ramon Troncoso, Scott Elbert, Carlos Monasterios, John Ely, Jon Link and the usual collection of non-roster invitees that includes Ron Mahay.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.