Surprise! Pitching May be L.A. Strong Point

Almost every "expert" reported that the Dodger pitching staff would be the weak link of the 2006 season. Then when inning-eater Jeff Weaver was unable to connect with GM Ned Colletti on a contract, the feeling of doom seemed to deepen. But after 18 spring games, there is not only a glimpse of sunlight on the horizon, it at times is blinding.

Warning … spring training results are unpredictable and could be injurious to your health. We all know that, but taken in context, Dodger pitchers have sparkled most of the time, with one of the brightest of them all not even in camp yet.

Right-hander Jae Weong Seo, obtained from the New York Mets for middle reliever Duaner Sanchez, raised howls of anger from Met fans and questioning looks from Dodger fans so saw Sanchez fill in as the stopper on the club last season and do well.

But when Seo started work in the World Baseball Classic, it was apparent that the Dodgers made a remarkable deal, obtaining what certainly appears to be a first class starter at the expense of a middle releiver, a position many general managers feel can be filled with little trouble.

In his third, and most important start of the WBC, Seo threw 56 pitches over five innings, only 18 of which were out of the strike zone. He left the game in a 0-0 tie, a tie that Japan broke the next inning en route to gaining a finals berth against Cuba.

Seo will rejoin his Dodgers teammates in Vero Beach later this week to give Manager Grady Little a better look at his talents, a look that previously been mostly on the television screen.

Seo has a 22-24 record and 3.85 ERA in 71 Major League appearances. He Seo stopped Chinese Taipei in a tough 2-0 game to begin the tournament in Tokyo and held Mexico to two hits and one run over 5/1 innings in Round 2. In his three starts, Seo went 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA, striking out eight in 14 innings.

Grady and his staff are waiting patiently to get a good look at the young pitcher.

Brad Penny has a 4.63 earned-run average in 11.2 innings, a number that is quite insignificant because he has concentrated on refining his curve ball most of the spring.

Pitching legend Sandy Koufax was in Dodgertown Sunday and gave Penny tips on holding his curve, a curve that he had been used sparingly in 2005 because of a nerve biceps injury he suffered.

Kouax's lesson on the proper grip for the breaking ball was viewed with some apprehension by Penny. "Have you seen the size of his hands?" he asked. "They are huge … no wonder he can throw a curve that way."

But to demonstrate the power of a Koufax suggestion, Penny admitted he would attempt to do it Sandy's way and see what happens. Few people in the world can made a suggestion to an established major league pitcher and have them accept the advice and give it a try.

But Koufax is one of them.

Dodgers manager Grady Little has already given the opening day honor to Derek Lowe in Los Angeles on April 3 against the Braves and, being familiar with the former Boston ace, has predicted that he would have a "great" season.

After Lowe dominated the Washington Senators Sunday in Holman Stadium, he had reduced his earned run average to a stunning 0.69. Over six innings of work -- and only 74 pitches -- he allowed fourth hits and struck out four. In 13 innings he is yet to walk a batter and he has fanned 11.

Odalis Perez, who has only worked once for the Dodgers but who did very well in the WBC and Brett Tomko will fill out the rest of the starting rotation.

Perez give up one hit and no runs in his only "official" spring training outing, while Tomko sports a 1.93 ERA in four starts. Over 14 innings, the former Giant has fanned 10.

Little has indicated he will work with an 11-man staff early in the season since four open Thursday dates will allow him to use only four starters, placing Seo in the long-relief slot to begin with.

Relief positions apparently set are a pair of all-star sstoppers,Eric Gagne and Danys Baez, along with Lance Carter and Yhency Brazoban -- if Brazoban bounced back from a sore shoulder that sidelined him for a couple weeks and has set his training schedule back.

That leaves only two open slot on the staff, one of which will be a lefty. In fact, Little would like two lefties available but that may be impossible.

A large group of talented pitchers are wedged tightly on the depth chart in the 10 and 11 holes.

Included are lefthanders Kelly Wunsch and Hong-Chih Kuo and righthanders D.J. Houlton, Aaron Sele, Brian Meadows, Jonathan Broxton and Franquelis Osoria, all of whom have shiny credentials this spring and are making problems for Little and his staff -- however, they are delightful problems.

Night Game-- The Dodgers and Nationals played a night game in Viero Monday evening. The full story will be in tomorrows (Tuesdays) posting.

Mr. K Makes Appearance--Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax made his first appearance at Dodgertown before the 9-1 win over the Washington on Sunday. The three-time Cy Young winner met new Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and new manager Grady Little.

Happy Birthday-- Frederick Walker (1884-1958), Bill Lamar (1897-1970), Jim Hughes (1923-2001) and Tommy Davis (67).

Dodger Blue Notes-- Shortstop Cesar Izturis, whose recovery from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow last September has been nothing short of miraculous, is now throwing from shortstop. Izturis was projected to join the Dodgers after the All-Star break in July, but it is apparent it will be much sooner than that. Dr. Frank Jobe before the young shortstop is officially cleared for game action. …Catcher Dioner Navarro's strained right hamstring is healing quickly and he jogged pain-free for the first time Sunday. Navarro couldn't predict his return sooner than the 10 days to two weeks club officials said he would miss. …John Wetteland, who pitched for the Dodgers 1989-91, has always heard a different drummer. The Nationals bullpen coach arrived for the game at Holman Stadium Sunday on his motorcycle, with the complete helmet and boots ensemble.