Lefties Available When Roster Expands

Thursday is the day that major league active rosters can expand to 40 members which means the usual call-ups from the minor leagues are forthcoming. Certainly, one area the Dodgers will address is that of left-handed help in the bullpen because with Kelly Wunsch out for the season and Wilson Alvarez still on the disabled list, the position has been vacant for some time now.

There are five candidates currently in the system who might be considered for the role. Two are with Las Vegas- Mike Venafro and Orlando Rodriguez, three with Jacksonville- Hong-Chi Kuo, Greg Miller and Luis Gonzalez. Three of those- Rodriguez, Kuo and Miller are all in various stages of rehab.

Venafro is by far the most experienced of the lot. The 32-year-old has performed the task with four big league clubs so far. It's why the Dodgers picked him up late last year from the Kansas City organization and he went on to pitch in 17 games for Los Angeles with middling results (0-0, 4.00).

He has done little to advance his cause this summer. He's worked a lot (50 games) but with little to show for it (0-1, 6.49). Thus his familiarity with the job is his main qualification.

Rodriguez has just joined the 51's from Jacksonville, making it his fourth stop on a tour as he works to regain the arm strength that left because of Tommy John surgery that deprived him of the 2004 season. Before that, he had pushed his way to the 40-man roster with some strong showings after being acquired from the White Sox for Antonio Osuna in March 2001.

His record at Jacksonville wasn't much, either (0-00, 5.58). Before that he was 1-0, 4.15 at Vero Beach where he had days both good and bad. He did strike out 25 in 17.1 innings there. His fast ball has been clocked in the mid-90's recently so he may be close to form once again. A 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic, he's had control problems with 11 walks in 17 innings while with Jacksonville.

Kuo, who has returned from the dumpster where he was left after two Tommy John surgeries to throw 98 mph upon occasion, has been attracting considerable attention because of his rejuventation. He was extremely impressive at Vero (1-1, 2.08 with 42 strikouts in 26 innings) and has cloned that with the Suns (26 innings, 1-1, 42 K's in 26.1 innings). What's more, he goes after hitters and throws strikes - -only nine walks with Jacksonville.

He, however, lacks experience -- this is the first time he's been as high as AA and he may be getting a bit tired. After all, 25 innings in 2001 was his heaviest load before this. He only pitched six innings all last year. Although he has an excellent curve, he's been relying on the heater in the main and the velocity has fallen a bit to the mid 90's recently.

Miller, who returned last month after over a year off because of shoulder surgery, has previously been a starter and may be so again after he recovers fully. He was strong at two stops (0-0, .225 in the Gulf Coast and 1-0, 0.90 at Vero) and finally yielded an earned run at Jacksonville in 9.1 innings. He's been throwing from 91- to 94 and has sharp slider but his command hasn't been strong lately (11 walks in those nine innings.)

Gonzalez has a first-rate arm and overall has had the best season (7-2, 2.32 with the Suns ). He, too, had problems in a mid-season promotion to Vegas (0-1, 9.31), has come back to perform effectively though he clearly did his best work earlier. He's a 22-year-old native of Puerto Rico.

In all, each presents credentials to be highly considered yet each may cast doubts in the minds of some. Unless some kind of a deal is made, though, at least one should get a call.