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Dodgers move forward sans Belisario

LA moves forward sans Belisario

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PHOENIX -- Ask any Dodgers official for an update on the status of reliever Ronald Belisario and the answer has been the same since Spring Training opened: "No update."

Belisario never made it out of his native Venezuela. Last year, he also was late because of visa problems, but showed up after two weeks and somehow spent the entire season as one of the top rookies in the Major Leagues.

The difference this year is that Belisario's visa status was complicated by a driving under the influence charge filed against him last summer after a traffic stop in Pasadena, Calif.

Belisario recently pleaded guilty to a lesser charge through an attorney, prompting speculation that the pitcher would soon show up, but it hasn't happened. As a visa matter, it is handled by the U.S. State Dept.

What Dodgers officials will say is, with only a week and a half to go until Opening Day, Belisario is not expected to be on the Opening Day roster.

One likely bullpen replacement for Belisario is Rule 5 Draft pick Carlos Monasterios, a friend of Belisario's from Venezuela. Veteran Ramon Ortiz is another, especially after another solid inning of relief on Thursday.

Not that the Dodgers don't want Belisario back after the way he pitched last year, when he made the club almost in spite of himself. Signed as a Minor League free agent off the recommendation of scout Ron Rizzi -- who saw Belisario's nasty sinker on display in the Venezuelan Winter League -- the right-hander showed up for Spring Training two weeks late because of those visa issues.

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He made a one-inning appearance in a spring game and was immediately reassigned to Minor League camp, where he pitched so impressively that assistant general manager De Jon Watson suggested the Major League staff take another look.

He reappeared in a Major League game the final week of the exhibition season and proved Watson correct, making the Opening Day roster. He went on to be the Dodgers' best rookie, finishing fifth among league relievers with a 2.03 ERA and holding opponents to a .157 batting average. He was one reason why the Dodgers had the best bullpen in the league last year.

Previously, Belisario had struggled through almost a decade of Minor League frustration. Originally signed in 2001 by Florida, he missed the '05 and '06 seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery and resurfaced in the Pittsburgh organization. Prior to signing with the Dodgers, he had never pitched above Double-A.

Since he's been gone, he's been the butt of typical clubhouse humor. Doug Mientkiewicz suggested the Dodgers hire Dog the Bounty Hunter to find their setup man. Someone copied an action photo of Belisario with the headline "Most Wanted" and posted several in the clubhouse.

And most symbolically, someone took the nameplate down from above Belisario's locker.

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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