Kuo, Young look like roster locks

Kuo, Young look like roster locks

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Hong-Chih Kuo, who has had an impressive Spring Training, and Delwyn Young, who hasn't, are expected to be on the Opening Day roster, manager Joe Torre said Sunday.

Both players are out of options, meaning that since being first protected on a 40-man roster, they have been sent down to the Minor Leagues the maximum number of three seasons. So, if the Dodgers were to return them to the Minor Leagues again, the players could first be claimed off waivers by another club.

That's not a risk the Dodgers will take with either, said Torre, who will meet with staff to discuss roster decisions Monday.

"If the player you're comparing them to is on an equal playing field, why lose somebody of value?" he asked rhetorically, saying there was no question that either player would be claimed if exposed to waivers.

Kuo has always been considered a rare talent with a gifted, yet brittle, left arm. He has had four elbow operations, two of them major Tommy John reconstructions, two minor cleanups, the most recent being last summer.

He was the favorite for the fifth-starter spot last spring until developing shoulder soreness. In eight professional seasons, he has thrown only 265 innings, 112 2/3 of them in 2006. This spring, he has allowed only three hits and two runs in 7 2/3 innings, with opponents hitting only .125.

"He has to be," Torre said when asked if Kuo was on the club.

The problem with keeping Kuo on the current roster, however, is that there's no place for him in the starting rotation and his elbow isn't resilient enough for typical up-and-down bullpen duties. Assuming the Dodgers don't trade him within the next week, which often happens to players out of options, he will probably slot in as a long reliever/spot starter.

Kuo's presence further complicates the decision whether to keep 11 or 12 pitchers, which will be influenced by injuries to Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent and Andy LaRoche and the possible need to carry an extra infielder.

Torre on Sunday repeated that he's not concerned with closer Takashi Saito, who allowed a home run on Saturday. He said he still has "middle ideas to put in place," referring to middle relief, where rookie Ramon Troncoso has snuck into the picture with an impressive spring. Rudy Seanez and Scott Proctor, assumed to have middle roles, pitched in a simulated game in Phoenix on Sunday. Brian Falkenborg struck out two of the three batters he faced on Sunday, pitching for the second consecutive day.

Young's situation is odder than Kuo's. A hitting machine in the Minor Leagues, he's struggling through what he calls his "worst ever" Spring Training, batting .146 with 15 strikeouts in 48 at-bats. An infielder converted to the outfield, he's been shuttled back and forth this spring, but refuses to use the defensive experimentation as an excuse for a cold bat.

"I can't throw that out there," he said. "You have to be a complete player. There's a track record of what I do, but I haven't shown it. Why? If I could answer those three little letters, I wouldn't be hitting a dollar and change. I can't pinpoint it. I talk about it, wonder if it isn't enough [repetitions] or focus. I don't know. I'm still searching."

Said Torre: "I'm sure he's going to hit. The only thing is, he's played regularly and that helps you hit. He's a roster guy, based on his talent and having no options left. My thought process is he'll be on the club. As far as his ability, I'm not sure we'll see the same guy unless he's playing and I'm not sure where playing time will come from."

Told of Torre's comments, Young said: "Those are refreshing words."

Because he's a switch-hitter, Young figures to start the season as the primary right-handed pinch-hitter and complement to left-handed pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney.

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