That would be the fifth-starter spot. A year ago under Joe Torre, the Dodgers came to camp without an established one and tried to piece it together for most of the year.
It didn't work, which is why general manager Ned Colletti gave Mattingly six starters this spring. Too many is a good thing for everyone except the odd man out, who figures to be Vicente Padilla. He told the club he's willing to be a reliever, but he's also said he has the resume and ability to be in the rotation. After missing time twice last year with arm and neck injuries, the right-hander arrived in Arizona last week, motivated to prove he's healthy again and determined to break camp in the rotation.
After all, a year ago he was the Dodgers' Opening Day starter. But that role has gone to Clayton Kershaw, with the rest of the rotation being Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda and Jon Garland. Mattingly demonstrated how delicate the Padilla situation is when he said the right-hander would be worked as a starter, then added that he'll also be used in back-to-back relief appearances to see how his arm rebounds.
"That will dictate how we'll use him," Mattingly said. "To me, Vicente can pitch with one pitch -- that fastball. He can locate, do what he wants with it. The guy's fearless. I could see if Broxt [Jonathan Broxton] saves three in a row and [Hong-Chih] Kuo's been used, who do you throw in the ninth? He's a guy you'd be confident to throw out there. He has a chance to be really versatile."
Not stated is that the Dodgers aren't sure about Padilla's durability as a starter. Each of the other five starters threw at least 190 innings in 2010, while Padilla had only 95 while going 6-5. That's why Colletti first signed Garland to a $5 million guaranteed salary with an option for 2012 before he re-signed Padilla for a $2 million base plus an incentive package that could be worth another $7 million for either starting or relieving.
Watching what happened to the Dodgers from San Diego last year, Garland (14-12 with the Padres) said he wasn't surprised management wanted both of the veteran right-handers, even if it comes down to a competition for the fifth spot.
"I'm confident in my ability," Garland said. "Last year was one of my best years. It'll be up to Donnie if he wants to change something around. But if somebody goes down, Padilla is a pretty good guy to slide into the rotation. The way he throws, he could be a closer. He throws 95 [mph], then he flips that 55 [mph] curve up there, it's amazing. One time through a lineup, not many teams could get to him."
Padilla's value as a reliever -- and the Dodgers' need for him -- is elevated by the anticipated indefinite absence of Ronald Belisario, who ran his streak to three springs in which he wasn't where he was supposed to be. He told a Venezuelan newspaper that he lost his passport. The Dodgers as an organization have put him out of their plans and would not be surprised if they don't see him again.
"I'll be concerned with the guys we have here and move forward," said Mattingly. "If you're not here, it's tough to compete for a job."
The bulk of Belisario's innings are expected to go to Matt Guerrier, a workhorse middle reliever for the Twins who was signed as a free agent to a three-year, $12 million contract specifically because Colletti was not counting on Belisario after his repeated issues of the past two years. Guerrier slots in behind Broxton and Kuo, if not Kenley Jansen, too.
The pitching ranks were thinned during the first workout when non-roster pitcher Dana Eveland strained a hamstring while running sprints. That will probably spur another phone call from representatives of right-hander Jeff Weaver, who had earlier contacted the club looking for a third consecutive non-roster invite.
The remainder of the position players take physicals Monday, and the first full-squad workout is Tuesday. The exhibition schedule opens quickly for the Dodgers with split-squad road games Feb. 26 against the Angels and the Giants, only four days after the first full-squad workout.
Mattingly was joined Thursday by a remodeled coaching staff that includes former Dodgers fixture Davey Lopes at first base and bench coach Trey Hillman (both former Major League managers). Lopes wasted no time holding a baserunning session with Matt Kemp on a Minor League field. They are expected to spend a lot of time together this spring.
Mattingly has predicted that Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney and 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.
Assuming Broxton, Kuo, Guerrier, Padilla and Jansen are in the bullpen, there might be two spots open for a group of contenders that includes Blake Hawksworth (out of options), Ramon Troncoso, Scott Elbert, Carlos Monasterios, John Ely, Jon Link, Travis Schlichting and the usual collection of non-roster invitees that includes eight Major League veterans, including 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.