Houlton Delighted to Be in Dodgertown

<b>VERO BEACH, Florida</b>-- It's not at all unusual for a rookie who makes his first major league camp to look around, savor the atmosphere and grin. At last! I'm really here! For D. J. Houlton, it's been that way ever since the December day when he learned he was a Rule 5 draft selection of the Dodgers.

"I'm born and raised in Anaheim and have lived in Southern California all my life. Me and my dad used to go to Dodger Stadium all the time. I saw all those great players. When I heard I was picked by the Dodgers, it was almost unbelievable. To think, I'm wearing this uniform as part of the this team," he pauses, "Trying to be anyway."

Houlton well realizes that under, the rules of the draft, his wearing of Dodger blue could be fleeting for, if he doesn't make the big club, he has to be offered back to the Astros from whence he came. And, as for those chances, "When I was drafted, there were some holes in the pitching staff but they've signed some players since."

The odds may be against his making it all the way to Dodger Stadium but convincing skeptics is something that Houlton has been doing ever since he started playing the game. "When I was in high school, I was the No. 3 pitcher on the staff. Almost never got to pitch."

Then, it was off to Santa Anna Junior College for two years where, "I finally got some innings in, enough to earn a scholarship to (the University of) Pacific. There, I got some good coaching and did well enough to be drafted."

That was in 2001 when Houston chose him in the 11th round which is down where players are often more suspects than prospects. In Houlton's case, the knock is usually that despite the fact that he's 6-4, 220, the ball doesn't exactly trail fire as it heads plateward.

It's a notion that has haunted his career even though he was an Appalachian League all-star in his first season, won 14 games in Class A, his second, and was a 12-game winner in AA in 2004. And it may not be all that deserved.

After all, his fast ball is usually clocked in the low 90's which, as he puts it, "is considered good, I guess; at least, by everybody but the Astros." For that team declined to promote him to their 40-man roster despite his accomplishments, thus leaving him out there for the Dodgers to grab.

He won those dozen games for Round Rock, then in the Texas League, since moving up to AAA. It's a team that is owned by Nolan Ryan, and that provided him with another alltime thrill.

"He came out and worked with me in the bullpen, one-on-one. That's hard to beat. I know people think of him as something as a wild man when he threw but his mechanics are really sound. And when he talks about pitching, he makes great sense. Everything is right there."

And the philosophy of his craft is extremely important to D. J. He has a hammer curve that is his primary out pitch, a solid change-up and is developing a slider but he regards the art of how and when to use that repertoire the ultimate difference in who makes it and who doesn't. "There's a heck of a lot of good pitchers here," he says, looking around the spacious dressing room. "Some are great, some just average but they all have good arms. The difference is in your thought processes on the mound."

Houlton is definitely a thinking man's pitcher, a fact that's brought him far enough to be mentioned as something of a candidate for the fifth starter's role. Not that he 's necessarily working for that role. "Let's face it. I just want to make the staff, probably in long relief."

To do that, he feels, "I'm in great shape. I've never had arm trouble and I just plan to work hard to show them that I can do it. I'm not going to worry about it, just do my best."

Which has been more than good enough to earn him the chance.

BLUE NOTES- The recovery of Dodgertown from the carnage wreaked by hurricanes Frances and Jeanne is virtually complete. The outfield fences at Holman Stadium still have not been installed but Craig Callan, who's in charge of the facility, says that work was purposely delayed in order to facilitate the replacement of the light poles, which were downed by the storm. "We'll have them up by the opening spring game," he asserts. The scoreboard also has to be replaced.

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