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Troncoso being groomed as starter

Troncoso being groomed as starter

LOS ANGELES -- While the Dodgers continue to troll for a veteran free agent like Jon Garland, Randy Wolf or Braden Looper to bolster the middle of their starting rotation, they've also found a young candidate already on the roster for the back end.

Ramon Troncoso, who pitched 32 games in relief for the Dodgers as a rookie last year and had not started since 2005 at low Class A, will arrive at the new Spring Training complex in Arizona next month seeking to be the fifth starter.

"I started at A-ball and didn't like it because I got tired, but I just came back from winter ball and they told me to start and I like it now," the right-hander said Thursday while on an outreach visit at the New Designs Charter School near the USC campus. "I've got more experience now and I can do it. I want to."

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Troncoso said he got the surprising word of a change in roles when he showed up for winter ball. Apparently club management so liked what it saw from James McDonald in relief that it might want to keep him there instead of starting, so the decision was made to try out Troncoso as a starter.

"It's an option for us that we're seriously considering," said general manager Ned Colletti. "He did well in the Dominican. He's got enough stuff. It could be how it turns out. It might be premature. But it does allow him to develop his other pitches."

Troncoso, who turns 26 next month, made four starts in the Dominican, extending to as long as five innings. He's been shut down for two weeks after developing a sore middle finger in the last start, but he will throw his first bullpen since then Friday at Dodger Stadium as the club's two-week winter development program continues.

Troncoso was one of the big surprises out of Spring Training last year, making the Opening Day roster despite only one-half season of Double-A ball. He had two Major League stints. He had a 4.26 ERA in 32 games with 38 strikeouts and 12 walks in 38 innings.

Troncoso relies on a sinker, but said he made progress with a changeup and breaking ball in his winter ball play.

The free-agent departures of Derek Lowe and Brad Penny have created openings in the starting rotation, which currently consists of Chad Billingsley (healing from a broken leg), Hiroki Kuroda, Clayton Kershaw and two question marks.

In addition to a likely acquisition, internal candidates include Troncoso, Jason Schmidt (coming back from major shoulder surgery), Eric Stults, Claudio Vargas and Shawn Estes.

This week's reacquisition of Guillermo Mota deepens the bullpen, although Colletti said another veteran arm could be added to a youthful corps that includes closer Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Cory Wade, McDonald and Scott Elbert. Gone from last year's bullpen are veterans Takashi Saito, Joe Beimel, Chan Ho Park and Scott Proctor.

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

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