LA's depleted staff short on seniority

LA's depleted staff short on seniority

PHOENIX -- Manager Joe Torre flipped Andre Ethier and James Loney in the batting order for Saturday's game looking to spark the offense, but the key subject before he was to send fill-in starter Eric Stults to face the Diamondbacks was the state of his pitching staff.

"Not good, with a couple of short starts by our starters," the Dodgers manager said in the wake of James McDonald's 2 1/3-inning first Major League start, which followed a five-inning start by Clayton Kershaw -- who suddenly finds himself ranked third in seniority in the rotation, based on Major League starts, at age 21.

"The bullpen is getting more work than it needs to get. We were fortunate last night that [Ramon] Troncoso gave us so much [3 2/3 innings]. We don't have [Guillermo Mota] tonight, or it would be three [days] in a row. We have some guys available tonight, but they're all one-inning guys. We're looking for our starter to go deep."

Stults has the capability, having thrown a complete-game shutout against the White Sox last year, a clutch six-inning win over the Mets in the 2006 pennant race and a seven-inning start in '07. However, of his 14 Major League starts, he was unable to go beyond five innings in half of them.

Torre also deflected a question about whether the club was stepping up efforts to obtain an arm from outside, knowing how unusual it would be for another club to trade a pitcher one week into the season.

"Right now, it's a little too soon," Torre said. "Plus, where we are with the people we sent out for various reasons, like [Jered] Weaver and [Eric] Milton. Ned [Colletti, general manager] is always talking to clubs. But every club is in the same boat, they don't have enough pitching."

The Dodgers seem poised to quickly promote Weaver and Milton, but as Torre pointed out with the Triple-A Albuquerque season having just opened, the hurlers haven't pitched enough to improve their situation from the end of Spring Training -- when they were sent out because management determined they weren't among the 12 best pitchers in camp.

And looming at Double-A Chattanooga is 21-year-old Josh Lindblom, as impressive as any pitcher the Dodgers had in camp, although his promotion would only add to the inexperience. He's less than one year out of college, although he looked polished and poised every time he took the mound for the Major League club in the Cactus League.

Meanwhile, two others the Dodgers were hopeful might provide some innings -- disabled pitchers Jason Schmidt and Claudio Vargas -- were in the clubhouse giving updates on their situations.

Schmidt said his shoulder is pain-free, but he's taking some extra days off between outings in extended Spring Training in hopes of improving his command. He said he can't locate his breaking ball, his velocity has leveled off and he suspects he might be going through a normal "dead-arm period." Schmidt, who is on the 15-day disabled list, said he likely would come to Los Angeles when he's ready for a rehab assignment, which would begin at Class A Inland Empire.

Vargas is on the 60-day disabled list with elbow inflammation in the area that normally indicates the need for Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, but the club has assured him the MRI shows no ligament tear. He has been taking anti-inflammatory medication and hasn't had any injections.

"I don't know exactly what it is," Vargas said. "The MRI shows big inflammation. They told me there's no tear, but everybody I see with Tommy John, it's in the same place, right there. I play catch, but I don't feel really good."

The contract Vargas signed has a minimum $400,000 salary guarantee, with $1 million in incentives for games started and another $400,000 for active service time or time on the disabled list for any injury other than the elbow, an exclusion put in because the Dodgers were concerned about time he missed last season with an elbow injury.

"For me, the money isn't everything," Vargas said. "Of course I'm frustrated. I don't like to be like this. I like pitching. I don't feel I'm doing nothing for the team or for me. I know I didn't pitch good in Spring Training, but I pitched better in my two starts. Out of the bullpen, I wasn't good."

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