Dodger Rotation Suddenly An Open Question

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Last year, you may remember, the Dodgers used nine different starting pitchers in their first 23 games. Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, Zack Greinke, and Josh Beckett were the original foursome, joined by Chad Billingsley the second time through. From there, it was something like a comedy of errors. Carlos Quentin broke Greinke, so Chris Capuano become starter No. 6, but immediately injured his calf. In game 18, Stephen Fife appeared in place of Billingsley, who had blown out his elbow. Two days later, Ted Lilly showed up as starter No. 8. Then Fife’s shoulder started barking, and we found ourselves watching Matt Magill, starter No. 9, making his debut against the Brewers on April 27.

It’s not quite so bad as that this year, but then again, we’re only seven games into the season. Five pitchers have started for the Dodgers, and when Greinke takes the mound tonight, he’ll be the first Dodger starter to start more than once other than Ryu, who has gone three times already. Kershaw started the opener in Australia, but is out for weeks or more with his strained back muscle. Beckett is now on his third different injury — thoracic outlet surgery last year, then a bruised thumb in camp, and now a sprained ankle attempting to field a bunt in his rehab start — since he last pitched in a game that counted, and Paul Maholm looked lousy yesterday.

So, where do we stand with this rotation?

We know two things: 1) that Greinke is starting tonight against Matt Cain, and 2) that the seemingly ludicrous amount of early season days off are a godsend right now. Tomorrow is yet another day off, and then Dan Haren starts against Detroit on Tuesday. After that, well, that’s where it gets dicey. That’s Ryu’s regular turn, but after his heavy early usage (and how badly he looked against the Giants on Friday), the team had hoped to give him an extra two days (Thursday is yet another day off), planning to use Beckett. But now that Beckett’s ankle is a concern, imperiling his planned bullpen session today, he might not be an option. (Not that he looked good before getting hurt in Rancho anyway, allowing two homers, one to Elliot Blair, a 46th-round pick in 2011 with a .240/.342/.360 line in parts of four seasons.)

So the Dodgers could forgo Ryu’s extra rest, or they could push Beckett, or they could dip into the minors, where Magill would be on regular rest for Wednesday. Of course, we all remember how rough Magill looked last season, and facing Miguel Cabrera and friends isn’t exactly the situation any of us want to see him in.

The good news, if there is any, is this: Billingsley makes his first rehab start today, and by all accounts, his journey back has been outstanding so far. His fastball in batting practice has been around 92 MPH, and he’s thrown breaking pitches. That’s not the same as being in real games, but it does mean he could be back in early May.

Where the Dodgers will be by then, and if he’ll beat Kershaw back — as now seems likely — remains an open question. But with no other starters currently on the 40-man roster, and Zach Lee having yet to even make his Triple-A debut (which he will do today), it seems like what we see is what we’ll get for the time being. I doubt any of us expected that to possibly include Magill two weeks earlier than it did last year.

Dodgers Cut 5 In Second Roster Trim Of Spring + Players Without Options

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The Dodgers made their second round of roster cuts yesterday, parting with five players: Matt Magill, J.C. Boscan, Clint Robinson, Brendan Harris, and Carlos Frias.

Magill figures to be one of the primary options to get called up if injuries plague the rotation. He helped his case a bit with a solid spring, allowing just a run in 5.2 innings while striking out six. Magill will probably be assigned to AAA.

Frias was less experienced against this level of competition and it showed. He gave up five runs in three innings of work this spring, but will look to use this as a learning experience and will probably head back to AA for 2014.

Boscan was always a long shot to make the roster, and was fifth on the depth chart behind Olivo and Butera. Boscan got limited playing time this spring, and he had one hit in four at-bats with two walks. He’ll likely settle in at AAA.

Robinson was an unstoppable force early in spring, and he ended up posting an .826 OPS in 23 at-bats. Most importantly, he put the fear of god into Adrian Gonzalez that he was about to lose his job at first base, thus motivating A-God to his .988 spring OPS. Clint Robinson for President. AAA is calling his name.

Harris was another long-shot to make the team given all the utility bodies in camp, and he didn’t help himself much by posting a .419 OPS in 19 at-bats. He’ll be a solid option to have in reserve at AAA.

All in all, no surprises yet, and the toughest decisions are yet to come. The team still needs to make decisions on the utility infielders, the reserve outfielders, the fifth spot in the rotation, the starter at second base, and also sort out the bullpen crunch.

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Given all that, the roster cuts figure to be coming quicker and quicker in the coming days, so it’s worth looking at the guys still in camp without options. They include Scott Elbert, Javy Guerra, and Drew Butera. If cut, the trio would have to clear waivers to remain with the team.

Elbert will remain with the Dodgers, if only because he’s currently injured and on the 60-day DL. The tough decision will come down the road when he’s ready to return.

Barring injury, Butera is almost assured to be cut eventually, as A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz have the starter and backup spots locked down. Also, he’s getting the fourth most playing time this spring, behind even Miguel Olivo, and hasn’t helped himself by posting one hit in eight at-bats with two walks. Butera’s a useful defensive option as a third catcher, though a team in need of a backup could pick him up.

Guerra has had a solid spring thus far, even if the peripherals are mediocre. In five appearances and six innings of work, he hasn’t allowed a run while striking out three and walking two. However, the bullpen situation is simply packed at the moment, and the only realistic shot of making the team for him is multiple injuries. So in order for him to be retained, he’ll either need a phantom injury or will need to clear waivers. I still think he could be an effective middle innings guy for someone, but he’s arguably the 10th best reliever in camp, so he belongs in AAA for now.

Matt Magill should be Dodgers’ No. 5 starter in April

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I know I’m going to catch a lot of flak for this, but Matt Magill should be the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter to begin the season.I’ll wait for you to stop laughing… still waiting. OK. Hear me out.

The Dodgers have yet to sign another starting pitcher this winter. General Manager Ned Colletti has said a few times he’s looking at starters since Masahiro Tanaka signed with the Yankees.

The name that comes up most is Bronson Arroyo, but that’s merely a Morosi rumor at the moment. A.J. Burnett would be great, but don’t bet the farm on that happening. Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana aren’t happening because of draft pick compensation.

Internally, the Dodgers have Josh Beckett, Stephen Fife and Zach Lee all ready to begin the 2014 season in the rotation, but all three have question marks.

Beckett had surgery this offseason and there’s no telling how effective he’ll be this season. Fife had a nice stretch last season, but his lack of pure talent and stuff caught up to him. Lee has never thrown a pitch at a level higher than Double-A, which may or may not be a negative. But he’s just 22 years old.

So, why Magill? I mean, he walked 28 batters in 27 2/3 innings, and struck out 26. That’s extremely unimpressive. Let’s break it down.

The Dodgers don’t especially need a No. 5 starter much in April. In fact, if the stars align, they won’t need a fifth starter until April 19, and would need two starts from the No. 5 just two times in the month. Beckett is used to pitching every fifth day. This means he’d make some appearances out of the bullpen, something he’s done just three times in his career. The solution for Beckett is a disabled list stint, giving him an extra month to get as close to 100 percent as possible. Fife seems better suited for starting, and  his pitching coach said as much last season. Lee is largely untested, and Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus said, “I think Lee would thrive in a rotation. I don’t think Lee is a guy you take out of the rotation.” I’ve never fancied Lee as a reliever.

So, not only would the “No. 5″ starter not start a lot, he’d, in theory, make a majority of his appearances (not innings, most likely) out of the bullpen. Of the quartet, Magill’s stuff plays best out of the bullpen. Beckett takes a day-and-a-half to throw a pitch, Fife doesn’t have the power profile and Lee’s mentality is best-suited for starting. Magill’s future could be as a reliever.

Also, if the Dodgers keep Lee in the minors until June, they can milk an extra year of arbitration out of him, as he wouldn’t qualify for “Super 2″ status.

Some are probably wondering (and by some, I mean four or five), “What about Seth Rosin?” Good question. Rosin was a Rule 5 Draft pick of the Mets, which traded him to the Dodgers. Rosin must be on the active roster come opening day (be it on the 25-man or on the disabled list). If not, he’d have to go through waivers, then be offered back to the Phillies before he could go to the Albuquerque.

Rosin has obviously caught the front office’s eye, and he could be a guy to watch this spring. But he seems more like a 1- or 2-inning reliever to me, rather than a true long reliever. That’s also what Jamey Wright is these days. Sure, you could both of those guys team up and hope for five innings total out of them a couple times in April, but that also burns them for at least the next game, maybe two (depending on off-days). With Magill, who has started 102 games in the minors, he would be able to go five- or six innings in a spot start (provided they were quality innings).

None of these four guys has the ability to go from reliever, to spot starter, back to reliever, back to spot starer better than Magill does. His stuff plays much better in that role, as he could sit in the low-90s in a start or even tick up a couple MPH in a 1-inning relief role.

Of course, this is all predicated on Magill having a strong spring training — something he did in 2013 (4 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K). As long as he’s able to repeat his delivery and keep his mechanics in tact, he could be a valuable guy for the Dodgers in April. That’s a big “if,” though.

If only Chad Billingsley had Tommy John surgery when he was supposed to, this wouldn’t even be an issue. Then again, the Dodgers might not have signed Dan Haren, either. Or maybe they would have. Who knows.

It’s not the most popular opinion and I’d be shocked if the Dodgers actually did it, but it’s something to ponder as Spring Training approaches.