D. J. Houlton Ready To Try, Try Again

     VERO BEACH, Fla.- Ah, spring, when every batter is going to hit .300, every pitcher either win 20 or save an equal number and everybody in the clubhouse is going to make the team. If 2006 was something less than the best for the player, it's a nightmare from which he has awakened. That's particularly true in the case of D. J. Houlton.

    After all, Houlton had spent 2005 with the Dodgers, working his way from the bullpen into the rotation. Even though he won only six games, his strikeout total of 90 was second-best among rookies in the National League. He had seemingly showed that he had the ability to pitch in the big leagues.

   So what happened? He was given practically no chance to make the team out of spring training, was sent to Las Vegas and labored there to a 9-11 season with a 5.60 ERA. Never mind that those nine wins were second- highest on the staff. He didn't get a September recall.

   In all, it was a season that he admits was "pretty poor. "Still, I learned a lot," so, maybe, he's better for it. At least, he's back on the 40-man roster, trying to regain a spot in Los Angeles.

  He had thoroughly enjoyed his experience in The Show. Not only on the field but off for he's a resident of the LA. suburb of Yorba Linda, a graduate of Servite High in Anaheim so, "My family could see me play and I got to stay with my brother. It was great."

   Then, came the demotion, which, he now admits, he didn't take well. "No, I was disappointed and I didn't carry a good attitude into the season. It took awhile before I straightened out,"

   There was also the prevailing problem of pitching in that purgatory for men of the mound called Las Vegas. "It's an awful place to pitch for a whole lot of reasons," he says, echoing a universal lament.

   Houlton has always been a man who relies upon a sharp curve, using his fast ball to set it up. Now, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt has detected a flaw in his delivery, feeling that he was throwing across his body too much.

  "It's a matter of setting up. I need to be straighter to the plate to get more on my fast ball. I'm glad they are taking the time to work with me."

  He's absolutely aware of the odds of making the staff. He likes starting more than relief work but there seems to be only one spot open in the rotation and, as he quips, "There's what? 20 guys trying for it?"

  D. J., which is actually short for Dennis, Jr., because his middle name is Sean, knows he can work from the bullpen if he has to.  But he also knows he's likely to be returned to Vegas to get ready if something breaks up on top, which is usually the case.

  In the meantime, he'll try to shake those blues away. After all, it's spring, he's healthy and in the big league clubhouse. Can a summer of prosperity be far behind?

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