Houlton Feels This Time He's For Real

"You can't have too much pitching," is a truism uttered by Dodger pitching coach Rick Honeycutt recently, one that's used so often that it's almost become a cliche. It's one often applied by his team and one that seems certain to prove true this off-season as they search the highways and byways of the game to flesh out their staff.

Part of that will be a look at what's in their own minor league system, of course. That will bring them again to righthander D. J. Houlton, who's been hanging around long enough now that's he's almost become an old hand. When they look, though, he insists they won't find the Houlton of old.

He can present some credentials. At Las Vegas he was a winning pitcher on a team that decidedly wasn't. He has the experience of pitching up on top. After all, he started 19 games for them in 2005. That was when he first became a Dodger as a Rule 5 selection from the Houston organization.

But he insists he's changed a lot since then. Now he feels he's the new improved version, one who has sharpened both his repertoire and his attitude.

"I never felt like I truly belonged," he says, referring to the 2005 sojourn. "I knew I was only with the team because of Rule 5. Now, I think I'm ready to pitch in the big leagues."

Although he's an imposing mound presence at 6-4, 225 pounds, he's never been the type to go out there and blow batters away with pure heat. No, a curve has been his weapon of choice and still is but- "I know I've improved my curve." What's more- "I have a lot better changeup. And I can throw my fast ball to spots much more consistently than I did then."

Equally as important, he feels is, "I changed my attitude. I decided I just wasn't having any fun playing the game and I should. So, I've gotten back the joy of the game. "

There's more he brings to a staff. If you want somebody to start, he does that. He also has learned to warm up quickly and go in when called from the bullpen if that's the way he's used. In all he's spent the last two years polishing up his pitching education so that he can graduate at last.

He's not been one that the Dodgers have felt a compelling need for, frankly. After his 2005 stint, he didn't log any big league time at all in 2006. Last year he did get called on a couple of times but when they needed an emergency starter, they tended to go elsewhere.

So, he hopes they take the time in 2008 to give him more than a passing glance. If he still with them, of course, because who knows what the winter will bring?

If they do take a longer look, he believes they'll appreciate what they see.

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