Ailing Dodgers are lucky to have rotation options

Ailing Dodgers are lucky to have rotation options

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers have eight starting pitchers in camp and might need to keep all of them.

Zack Greinke has had something going on in the back of his elbow and might miss another start on Monday. Chad Billingsley has something going on with his right groin. Ted Lilly is coming off shoulder surgery and is behind in innings because of the flu and a rainout. Chris Capuano is fine now, but he's had two Tommy John operations.

If everybody is healthy and nobody is traded, Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Josh Beckett and Billingsley figure to open the season in the rotation. The fifth spot, when needed on April 15, could go to Hyun-Jin Ryu, Capuano, Aaron Harang or Lilly.

But general manager Ned Colletti has seen enough injuries to pitchers, and he seems to be in no rush to trade any of them. He won't even answer when asked what he'd do if the season started today.

"It doesn't," he said. "There's still three more weeks of Spring Training to get through before Opening Day."

OK, but there's only one more week of exhibition games before management must settle on the five starters, providing them with enough innings to be ready for April 1. Manager Don Mattingly said the three starters that get bumped will continue to get extra innings and prepare as starters, even if it takes Minor League games to do it.

The Dodgers are masters at roster manipulation and stashing the three surplus starters in the bullpen might be the only way for Colletti to maximize "inventory."

They would join the four relievers considered locks to make the team -- closer Brandon League, Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisario and lefty J.P. Howell.

Because of Lilly's age (36), shoulder-injury history and pitching style, he is the least likely to adapt to relief. That might put him in position to initially be the fifth starter, with Ryu, Capuano and Harang filling out the bullpen.

Mattingly gave some credence to a Lilly scenario on Sunday.

"He hasn't been able to log innings on the field, but the ball's coming out good," said Mattingly. "When you see Teddy at 88, 89 [mph], he's feeling good. He's healthy and he's bouncing back."

Ryu and Capuano could give Mattingly three lefty relievers (including Howell). Harang could be the long reliever the Dodgers don't seem to have otherwise.

Although sending Ryu to the bullpen would be a new look for his fans in Korea, where he was a dominant starter for six years, the Dodgers could argue it would allow a gentler transition to the Major Leagues. Like most of the Dodgers' starters this spring, Ryu has been inconsistent -- as well as resistant to suggestions that he change his routine by adding bullpen sessions between outings.

Capuano pitched enough in relief on the comeback from his second operation (15 games in 2010) that the Dodgers would be comfortable with his ability to warm up quickly, the toughest transition for a starter going to the bullpen.

Keeping all eight starters, however, would create a real numbers jam for veteran relievers Matt Guerrier and Kevin Gregg. Guerrier is coming off a strained flexor tendon that wiped out most of his 2012 season and could reject a Minor League assignment. And Gregg is a former closer signed as a non-roster invitee who has pitched well enough to make just about any team that doesn't have overflowing starters. He has an out in his contract at the end of Spring Training.

The starting surplus also figures to make this a really tough year for any young Dodgers pitcher (with Minor League options remaining) to make the Opening Day roster.

That list consists of Steve Ames, Stephen Fife, Javy Guerra, Matt Magill, Paco Rodriguez, Shawn Tolleson, Josh Wall and Chris Withrow. Scott Elbert, coming off two elbow operations, has resumed tossing but will open the season on the disabled list.

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