Mailbag: Who slots in as fifth arm?

Mailbag: Who slots in as fifth arm?

Who will be the Dodgers' fifth starter?
-- Greg G., Chatsworth, Calif.

They sure don't know. Here's what they do know -- it won't be Jason Schmidt, at least not to open the season. The right-hander is still recovering from shoulder surgery. Esteban Loaiza is the next logical candidate based on his track record. It's unfair to judge based on one appearance, but he didn't look any better than he did last year after his acquisition. After that it gets intriguing. Hong-Chih Kuo would give the Dodgers a left-hander in the rotation, but he's never been able to stay healthy. He's out of options and if he's still healthy when the season starts, it's likely to be him. He was penciled in as the fifth starter last spring, but got hurt. Non-roster contenders are led by Jason Johnson, who pitched well again on Monday, and former Dodger Chan Ho Park, who pitched well Saturday.

Are the Dodgers interested in Brandon Inge?
-- Douglas H., Los Angeles

Inge is available and the Dodgers are uncertain at third baseman, so they've reportedly talked. That said, Inge is owed $19.1 million over the next three years. The Dodgers already have an $8.5 million financial investment this year in Nomar Garciaparra, a six-time All-Star who is only one year removed from a Comeback Player of the Year Award-winning season. And the club also has Andy LaRoche, who is 24 and awfully young to be written off. So, it would only make sense that the Dodgers decide that neither Garciaparra nor LaRoche can do the job before they pick up $19.1 million worth of a player whose team couldn't wait to replace him.

Look at some stats: Inge hit 14 homers and .236 last year in a hitter-friendly ballpark -- and LaRoche can probably do that. Inge had one 27-homer season. He also has a .241 career average. Last year, Inge's on-base percentage plus slugging percentage was lower than Garciaparra's, who admittedly had a poor season. The concern over third base is understandable, but I don't see where Inge makes much sense.

Regarding a long-term contract for Russell Martin: Do you think the Dodgers want to go through what the Phillies did with Ryan Howard this year?
-- David R., Philadelphia

Give me a left-handed hitter capable of slugging 105 homers over two seasons and I'll deal with the cost. The Dodgers haven't had one of those since, well, never. In Martin, they have a budding superstar, but not quite on the level of a Howard. And Martin can't go anywhere until after the 2012 season. So there's no urgency.

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The club has attempted to discuss a multiyear deal to secure cost certainty through the arbitration years, but Martin's side has not been receptive. If he stays healthy and continues to improve, Martin would present the Dodgers with their most challenging payroll situation since Eric Gagne, if not Mike Piazza. The Dodgers went to arbitration and beat Gagne. They never locked him up long-term -- which was a good thing, because he broke down. They never went to arbitration with Piazza, either.

Which players on the Opening Day 2007 roster are not in Spring Training this year?
-- Bryan S., Santa Barbara, Calif.

Mark Hendrickson, Brett Tomko, Randy Wolf, Mike Lieberthal, Wilson Betemit, Luis Gonzalez, Olmedo Saenz, Wilson Valdez, Marlon Anderson and Brady Clark.

What exactly goes into a simulated game?
-- Josh C., Lynden, Wash.

It's a lot more simulation than a game. It's designed to create game-like situations under controlled conditions, generally for pitchers to get through an entire inning. Balls and strikes are called through an at-bat and the inning continues until there are three outs. Bases are not run and fielding is not necessary. The pitcher can set up hitters by using different pitches in different counts, can pitch out of the stretch, can take a break after three outs, then warm up and do it again. The cool-down and warmup that simulates the time between innings is often the crucial part for a pitcher coming off an injury.

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