Romo held out of workouts with stiff back

Kazmir searching for velocity; Ethier to return to action Friday

Romo held out of workouts with stiff back

PHOENIX -- Dodgers reliever Sergio Romo returned from the World Baseball Classic with a stiff back and was held out of workouts on Thursday.

The Dodgers consider the issue minor, even though the season starts in 18 days.

The 34-year-old former Giant, signed as a free agent to replace setup man Joe Blanton, has pitched in only two Cactus League games for the Dodgers, but there is some concern that his recent workload for Team Mexico (two games, 1 1/3 innings, three runs), after playing in the Mexican Winter League (nine games, 9 2/3 innings, one run), could take a toll on Romo.

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Romo was the Giants' primary closer in 2013 and '14, when he recorded a combined 61 saves. He pitched well in a setup role in '15 and '16, compiling a 2.64 ERA last year when limited to 40 appearances because of a forearm flexor strain. He will receive $3 million plus incentives.

Right-handed hitters had a .234/.272/.403 slash line against Romo last year, with 24 strikeouts and only four walks in 81 plate appearances.

While the Dodgers expect Romo to be on the Opening Day roster, the same apparently isn't the case for Scott Kazmir, whose fastball sat at only 82-84 mph in a five-inning simulated game against Minor League hitters.

"From everything I hear he's healthy," manager Dave Roberts said. "We need to see the velocity."

Last year, Kazmir's fastball touched the mid-90s until he experienced thoracic discomfort, which he has said was a chain reaction result from hip stiffness. He has worked endlessly on mechanical adjustments this spring and displayed better command on Thursday, but the velocity is a red flag.

Roberts also declared veteran Franklin Gutierrez has made the club as a part-time left fielder and right-handed bat against left-handed pitching. Roberts said Gutierrez's .129 spring batting average is misleading, because Gutierrez has faced mostly right-handed pitching, which he won't be doing during the regular season.

Andre Ethier's return to action was delayed one day, and Roberts said he will either start at left field or designated hitter in one of the two games Friday night. Ethier has been out since March 7 with hip stiffness.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.