Fifth-starter competition under way

Chase to be Dodgers' fifth starter begins

PHOENIX -- The competition for the fifth spot in the Dodgers rotation began in earnest on Tuesday at the Camelback Ranch complex.

Eric Stults, Charlie Haeger and Carlos Monasterios worked the first three innings of a 4-2 victory over the White Sox in a "B" game. Manager Joe Torre wanted to take an early look at some of the seven candidates.

Stults and Haeger are out of options and can't be sent to the Minors unless they clear waivers. Monasterios was a Rule 5 selection last December from the Phillies and must remain on the 25-man roster for the entire season or be offered back to Philadelphia.

"It's early in Spring Training," Torre said. "At least you get to see guys pitch. If they don't make your club you have an idea what they can do. If there's some point during the season you're going to need help, at least you're familiar with them."

Of the three, only Haeger, a knuckleball-throwing right-hander, allowed a run, on a homer off the bat of Josh Kroeger to lead off the second. Haeger also walked a batter. Stults, a left-hander who is 8-10 with two shutouts in his Major League career, opened the game and allowed one hit while striking out a pair, during his one inning of work. Monasterios retired the side in order in the third.

Stults, who was 4-3 in 10 appearances (all starts) for the Dodgers last season, went down to the bullpen and threw another 25 pitches to simulate a second inning.

"My goal is to make the club, whether it's the fifth spot or in the bullpen, it doesn't matter," said Stults, now 30 and a career Dodger. "Anybody's goal is to be on the team and help it win. I feel more of my role is as a starter. I think I have a better shot there."

Haeger threw 19 innings for the Dodgers last season. He was 1-1 in six appearances, three of them starts. In parts of four seasons with the White Sox, Padres and Dodgers, Haeger is 4-3 in 25 appearances, 21 of them in relief.

But it's a starting role this season that he covets.

"Absolutely, I want to be a starter," said the 26-year-old Haeger. "I want to be in the rotation. I feel more comfortable as a starter. I like that routine. Being in the bullpen, though, is something I would obviously do if they told me to do it."

Barring injuries, the top four spots in Torre's rotation are already set, although not necessarily in this order: Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and Vicente Padilla. Kershaw may be the starter on Opening Day April 5 at Pittsburgh, although Torre hasn't made that official yet.

The derby for the fifth slot will be ongoing all spring. Add to the three who pitched on Tuesday, the names of left-hander Scott Elbert, right-hander James McDonald, and finally Russ and Ramon Ortiz, two veteran non-roster right-handers.

"It has to be [a spring-wide competition]," Torre said. "We're going to have roster issues when you're talking about five starters and seven relievers. It's going to be tough to narrow it down. We have a lot of candidates. I'm not really worried about it at this point because there's no decision to be made.

"That's why Spring Training is great until about the last week. Then you have to start making those decisions and wish you had a little more time. We're going to try and give them as much rope as we can. Give them games. Give them innings."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.