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Honeycutt excited by pitchers at Dodgers minicamp

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LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers kept last week's Young Guns pitching minicamp under wraps. So, nobody outside the organization saw Clayton Kershaw throw a bullpen session with no pain in his right hip, or Javy Guerra throw pain-free coming off collarbone surgery, or Ronald Belisario throwing his nasty stuff off a mound.

And no outsiders saw former first-rounder Chris Withrow now that he's been switched from a starting pitcher to a reliever, or Pedro Baez now that he's been switched from a third baseman to a pitcher.

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But Rick Honeycutt saw all of that and more at Camelback Ranch-Glendale, and he's as excited as a pitching coach with eight high-priced starters and a loaded bullpen can be.

"Clayton was great, outstanding," said Honeycutt. "But he was outstanding his last three starts, so that wasn't a surprise. Shawn Tolleson had a little back tightness, but he threw a 'pen. So did Josh Wall and Javy Guerra, who isn't as far behind as I thought he'd be. Belisario was there, he threw twice, looked real good."

The Young Guns minicamp was originally intended for top pitching prospects, which is why Withrow and fellow first-rounders Zach Lee and Chris Reed were there. But with Spring Training around the corner and the pitching coaches in attendance, the Dodgers have encouraged Major Leaguers like Kershaw, Guerra and Belisario to stop by and get a bullpen in before Spring Training starts.

With the offseason spending spree, particularly on starters Zack Greinke and Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Dodgers have eight starting pitchers. In addition to Kershaw and the new pair, returning are Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley (coming off a partially torn elbow ligament), Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly (coming off shoulder surgery).

Honeycutt said Capuano, who lives in Arizona, threw two bullpen sessions at the minicamp last week. If Billingsley is healthy, there won't be room in the rotation for Capuano, Harang or Lilly.

"Better to have too much," said Honeycutt. "Where we're at is what the game should be about. Nothing is handed to you. It's about competition. It's not just about winning, it's about winning everything. These guys know the situation. We've got X-number of starters and just five spots that will go to the guys throwing the best. I don't think anything isn't as it should be."

Billingsley was not at the minicamp, remaining at home in Pennsylvania, but he hasn't had a setback after responding well to platelet-rich plasma injections. There is no way to know if his elbow will hold up until it is tested in Spring Training.

"He has to be smart and be open if he feels something so he doesn't push it past the point," said Honeycutt. "There's a fine line between being really hurt or having something you can deal with. Chad tends to pitch through whatever is going on, and he's not always open about what's going on. He needs to be honest with himself."

The Dodgers traded away eight young pitchers -- Rubby De La Rosa, Nathan Eovaldi, Scott McGough, Logan Bawcom, Josh Lindblom, Ethan Martin, Ryan O'Sullivan and Allen Webster -- during last summer's shopping spree for proven veterans.

Honeycutt didn't see Kenley Jansen throw, but the reliever arrived the day Honeycutt left and has been throwing bullpens with no ill effects from the surgery he had to fix an irregular heartbeat.

Honeycutt mentioned Jansen, a transformed catcher, in reference to Baez, signed for $200,000 to be a power-hitting third baseman. Baez, a .247 hitter in six Minor League seasons, is starting over as a hard-throwing reliever a la Jansen, who came out from behind the plate to emerge as a bullpen strikeout king.

"They put him on the mound in instructional league and that fastball is really strong," Honeycutt said of Baez, who turns 25 next month. "You talk about Kenley when you see the ball come out of his hand. He hasn't been overwhelmed by thinking too much about pitching. He just sees the glove and throws it and that's kind of refreshing."

Withrow, the Dodgers' No. 1 pick in 2007, had early bouts with the yips and more recently chronic back problems. Withrow responded to a bullpen move late last year, and Honeycutt said it's now permanent, hoping the role change can work Eric Gagne-like wonders for Withrow, whose electric arm is undisputed.

Maybe management recalls a hard-throwing second-rounder that struggled as a starter and was never tried as a reliever. Instead, the Dodgers let Joel Hanrahan leave as a free agent and he went on to be an All-Star closer. "Chris wanted the change," Honeycutt said. "He likes attacking more. He reminds me a little of Gagne, somebody who might throw three or four innings as a starter but have one [bad] inning, and you can eliminate that if you're only asking one inning of relief from him. Maybe one- or two-inning stints will be easier on his back. He's got the arm."

Honeycutt said he was also impressed with pitchers just added to the Major League roster -- Matt Magill and Steven Ames -- and especially 100-mph right-hander Jose Dominguez.

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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