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Dodgers' fifth-starter spot up for grabs

Dodgers' fifth-starter spot up for grabs

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Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Which Manny Ramirez shows up?
When camp opened last year, no Ramirez showed up, and that set a sour tone. Whether it was the truncated Spring Training, the drug suspension, the injured wrist or his advancing years, Ramirez didn't earn his $25 million last year. The Dodgers don't need Ramirez to duplicate the ridiculous pace after his 2008 arrival, but they need more than they got last year, especially during the stretch run, when he looked tired and confused. The guess around the ballclub is that Ramirez will show up more motivated than ever to prove that last year was a fluke. Whether his body is still able is the real question.

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2. Who will win the fifth-starting spot?
In alphabetical order, the candidates in this scramble are Scott Elbert, Charlie Haeger, Josh Lindblom, James McDonald, Carlos Monasterios, Russ Ortiz and Eric Stults. Haeger the knuckleballer is the most intriguing, but because his arm is resilient enough to pitch often, he might replace Jeff Weaver as the swingman. Elbert might have the edge in the mind of the staff, while McDonald won the job last spring, then lost it. Stults has two shutouts on the resume but has lacked consistency. Lindblom came out of Minor League camp last spring and nearly made the team. Monasterios is a Rule 5 draftee who was impressive in Venezuela over the winter, while Ortiz once was a staff ace, but that was a lot of innings and injuries ago.

3. Who will play second base?
The assumption is that Ronnie Belliard is the incumbent, having played the position throughout the postseason. But it's also assumed he can't play every inning of every game anymore, so with Jamey Carroll from the right side and Blake DeWitt from the left, the Dodgers believe they've replaced Orlando Hudson at a fraction of the price and improved the bench while they're at it. Belliard was a real nice fit in the lineup and clubhouse after his summer addition, and if his bat is still lively, he'll get most of the playing time.

2009 record
95-67, National League West champions

Projected batting order
1. SS Rafael Furcal:
  .269 BA, .335 OBP, .375 SLG, 9 HR, 47 RBI in 2009
2. CF Matt Kemp:
  .297 BA, .352 OBP, .490 SLG, 26 HR, 101 RBI in 2009
3. RF Andre Ethier:
  .272 BA, .361 OBP, .508 SLG, 31 HR, 106 RBI in 2009
4. LF Manny Ramirez:
  .290 BA, .418 OBP, .531 SLG, 19 HR, 63 RBI in 2009
5. 1B James Loney:
  .281 BA, .357 OBP, .399 SLG, 13 HR, 90 RBI in 2009
6. 3B Casey Blake:
  .280 BA, .363 OBP, .468 SLG, 18 HR, 79 RBI in 2009
7. 2B Ronnie Belliard:
  .277 BA, .325 OBP, .451 SLG, 10 HR, 39 RBI in 2009
8. C Russell Martin:
  .250 BA, .352 OBP, .329 SLG, 7 HR, 53 RBI in 2009

Projected rotation
1. Clayton Kershaw, 8-8, 2.79 ERA in 2009
2. Chad Billingsley, 12-11, 4.03 in 2009
3. Hiroki Kuroda, 8-7, 3.76 in 2009
4. Vicente Padilla, 4-0, 3.20 in 2009
5. Undecided

Projected bullpen
Closer: Jonathan Broxton, 36/42 saves, 2.61 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: Ronald Belisario, 2.04 ERA in 2009
LH setup man: George Sherrill, 1.70 ERA in 2009

The new guys
INF Jamey Carroll: He's a gamer, a pesky hitter and a versatile defender who can play all over the field. It's not clear whether he will see a lot of time at second base after the re-signing of Belliard, but he could wind up as a super utility man, backing up both shortstop Furcal and third baseman Blake.

OF Reed Johnson: The Dodgers preferred to have a left-handed hitter as their veteran fourth outfielder, but passed on Garret Anderson because they felt Johnson was more versatile defensively, having handled all three outfield positions. He essentially replaces Juan Pierre as the go-to vet should one of the three regulars go down for any length of time.

RHP Carlos Monasterios: The Rule 5 draftee, who had a big Venezuela Winter League season as a starter, was taken on the advice of scout Ron Rizzi, who unearthed Belisario a year ago. Monasterios will be in the mix for a fifth-starter spot. He's never pitched above Double-A.

Prospects to watch
RHP Josh Lindblom: He's the former Purdue closer the Dodgers believe can become a Major League starter. Last year, he pitched best in relief. He could wind up in either role. If sent back to Triple-A, he'll probably start to get added innings.

OF Xavier Paul: Given an unexpected opportunity to play in Spring Training because of Ramirez's late arrival, Paul almost made the club. But after a May callup he was limited to 11 Major League games by a skin infection and ankle injury. The club believes he could be a fourth outfielder, but wasn't convinced enough to keep from signing Johnson for veteran insurance.

RHP Chris Withrow: He's considered the best of a deep crop of starting-pitching prospects, followed closely by Aaron Miller and Ethan Martin. Withrow will likely start the season at Double-A.

On the rebound
RHP Chad Billingsley: A year ago, everybody wondered if he could shake off his NL Championship Series debacle and a broken leg, and he produced an All-Star first half. But that has already been forgotten because he went 3-7 with a 5.20 ERA after the break. Maybe it was the nagging leg injuries or, as he said, a mechanical flaw. Regardless, he's 17 games above .500 with a 3.55 career ERA and he's only 25. There isn't a team that's had trade talks with the Dodgers that wouldn't take Billingsley. His arm is sound. If Kershaw emerges as the No. 1 starter, the Dodgers could do a lot worse than have Billingsley as the No. 2.

SS Rafael Furcal: In four Dodgers seasons, Furcal has had only one healthy and productive. The other three have been clouded by injuries. As the shortstop and leadoff hitter, he can be a double threat. But injured, he can be a multiple liability. In his comeback from back surgery, he had a disappointing season but a big September, giving the Dodgers hope that he's rounding back into form rather than over the hill.

RHP Hiroki Kuroda: A strained oblique muscle, a line drive off the head and a bulging disk in his neck made his '09 season a medical mess. The question is whether a 35-year-old Kuroda can bounce back in the final season of his contract. The club said the neck is fully healed and he has been able to work out without limitation over the winter.

C Russell Martin: Management hasn't given up on Martin, but it isn't ignoring his two-year regression. There are no easy answers for what's happened with Martin. His work ethic improved dramatically in '09 and his defense was better, but the offense is nowhere near the level of his Silver Slugger season in '07. With fewer times on base, there are fewer stolen bases, not that it's expected from a catcher but a unique asset he once displayed. He'll need to pick it up offensively to justify a $5.05 million salary.

OF Manny Ramirez: Ramirez's legs bother him playing the outfield. A 50-game suspension early in the 2009 season didn't prevent a late-season fade. He seriously considered opting out of his contract and would have if the economic climate had an American League team willing to pay his stratospheric salary for a designated hitter. Expect Ramirez to need, and receive, more days off in '10. Otherwise, expect Ramirez to show the effects in the stretch, as he did last year.

Long gone
2B Orlando Hudson: The club believed his wrist bothered him in the second half of the season, but he didn't appreciate being benched for the stretch run. The benching wasn't mutual, but the parting was.

LHP Randy Wolf: The club wanted no part of paying him north of $10 million and was convinced he would have accepted salary arbitration, which is why it wasn't offered. He cashed in for almost $30 million in Milwaukee and essentially was replaced by Padilla at half the salary.

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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{"content":["spring_training" ] }
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