Dodgers pick up three contracts

Dodgers pick up three contracts

SAN DIEGO -- The Dodgers spent most of their time and money on Manny Ramirez over the winter, the distraction leaving their pitching staff more uncertain when entering a season than this organization has seen in decades.

That was obvious all spring and was underscored by the additions made before Monday's opener -- the purchasing of contracts of non-roster pitchers Will Ohman and Ronald Belisario and non-roster infielder Doug Mientkiewicz.

To clear space on the 40-man roster, the Dodgers placed pitcher Claudio Vargas on the 60-day disabled list with elbow tendinitis and released former first-round Draft pick Greg Miller, a one-time top prospect who was never the same after two shoulder operations. Delwyn Young was placed on the 15-day disabled list with continuing elbow problems.

The roster moves verified bench jobs for a pair of popular, scrappy infielders: Blake DeWitt, seemingly squeezed out of a job by the surprise signing of second baseman Orlando Hudson; and Mientkiewicz, a long-shot non-roster favorite of manager Joe Torre.

The moves leave the Dodgers with a youthful 12-man pitching staff that raised more questions during Spring Training than it answered, particularly with a trio of relievers: the left-handed reliever Ohman, whom management had said wouldn't be ready by Opening Day after less than one week of Spring Training; right-handed reliever Ronald Belisario, a 26-year-old veteran of Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery who's never pitched above Double-A; and right-hander Ramon Troncoso, who won back his middle relief job with a 6.57 ERA in the spring.

General manager Ned Colletti said he has fewer concerns about the bullpen than he had a couple weeks ago.

"Ohman is a positive addition and Belisario has pitched well. We'll see how he does when the lights come on," Colletti said. "All along, I've felt this season will be one with a lot of personnel movement. Right here, right now, we're all right. We'll continue to look to improve pitching-wise."

The pitching turnover, however, is staggering from last year's staff that led the league in ERA. Gone from that staff are Derek Lowe (now starting for Atlanta), Brad Penny (starting for Boston), Takashi Saito (relieving for Boston), Joe Beimel (relieving for Washington), Chan Ho Park (starting for Philadelphia), Greg Maddux (retired), Scott Proctor (injured), Jason Johnson and Esteban Loaiza.

They've been replaced by Randy Wolf, Guillermo Mota, Ohman and Belisario. The Dodgers need to replace 41 wins (almost half last year's total of 84) and nearly 600 innings.

Presumably, the decisions to let that many pitchers leave were influenced by money, durability and attitude.

The last-minute signing of Ohman, followed by management's flip-flop on when he'd be ready, underscores the concern. Of the seven Dodgers relievers, only two have more than three years of Major League experience and combined they have 30 career saves.

Saturday night, Torre announced that rookie James McDonald -- who has never started a regular-season Major League game -- will be the fifth starter, joining Hiroki Kuroda, Wolf, Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw.

Wolf, then, is the only member of the rotation older than 25 with more than 35 career Major League starts. Since moving to Los Angeles 51 years ago, the Dodgers never have opened a season with as many as three starters that did not have at least 35 Major League starts.

That said, at least the Dodgers feel good about their lineup and an improved bench.

The lineup is a blend of experience and improving youth, with Ramirez the man opposing pitchers will be determined to avoid. On the experienced side are shortstop Rafael Furcal, third baseman Casey Blake and the unexpected addition of Orlando Hudson at second base. The youthful core is catcher Russell Martin, first baseman James Loney and outfielders Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.

As for the bench, in Brad Ausmus they have one of the more cerebral backstops in the game to mentor Russell Martin and give him more time off. Mark Loretta becomes the primary pinch-hitter, with the ability to play all over the infield.

DeWitt, a starter most of last season, showed enough at shortstop for management to keep his bat over Chin-lung Hu's glove. Mientkiewicz is the kind of grinder Torre loves and he can deliver a clutch pinch-hit from the left side.

Juan Pierre is the only extra outfielder. He's not happy about it two years after signing to be an everyday player, but he's been professional in handling it.

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