Projections at the Half-Way Mark

With the Spring Training season at about the half-way mark, and with part of the team in China, part of the team still back in Florida for another week before moving to Arizona to ready themselves for the NL West race, here is a half-way look at what might be.

Closer Takashi "Sammy" Saito is expected to be ready to go by the start of the season, but time is growing short, and the same right calf injury that bothered him last year has thus far kept him out of Grapefruit League action.
Saito tried to throw off a mound and wasn't able to do so without some pain. "It's all right," he said.

   "All right isn't good enough. We want to make sure we protect him," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.

   Saito successfully navigated a 23-pitch bullpen session. He hopes to pitch a simulated game later this week but he will be handled with kid gloves.

Torre predicted that Saito wouldn't need more than a handful of spring appearances to get himself ready by Opening Day.
Former Dodgers closer Eric Gagné was legendary for how quickly he could get ready, usually not making more than eight appearances, all in the final two weeks or so before the club would break camp.

"I think relievers typically get nine or 10 innings in," Torre said. "But with (Saito), I think it's more about how many times he can go out there and do what he does. I'll check with (pitching coach) Rick (Honeycutt) and see what (Saito) has done in the past. If he were a starter, it would be tough now to get him enough starts to be ready for the season. But he is a little bit of a different animal."

   One concern is Saito's age. He turned 38 on the first day of camp. But Torre also said he believes setup man Jonathan Broxton would be capable of stepping into the closer's role if Saito were unavailable at any point during the season.

Notes and Quotes
--3B Nomar Garciaparra took batting practice Tuesday and said his sore right wrist was showing signs of improvement. Garciaparra, who was scratched from the roster of Dodgers heading to China, has been sidelined since getting hit on the wrist by a pitch Friday. The team still expects him to be ready for Opening Day.

--LHP Hong-Chih Kuo, who missed his scheduled start March 5 with discomfort in his left elbow, returned to action Tuesday. He tossed a scoreless inning against the Marlins, striking out two of the three batters he faced and said his arm felt fine.

--RHP Brad Penny skipped a Grapefruit League start Monday, but not due to any injury. He stayed in Dodgertown to face minor-leaguers in an intrasquad game.

--Park continued his strong bid for a rotation job by pitching three scoreless innings Monday. He has not allowed a run in seven Grapefruit League innings. The non-roster invitee is expected to start one of the Dodgers' two upcoming exhibition games in China.

--3B Andy LaRoche had surgery Monday to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right wrist, and he will miss eight to 10 weeks. LaRoche was injured when C Danny Ardoin threw to third trying to pick off St. Louis' D'Angelo Jimenez. The ball is believed to have ricocheted off Jimenez's body, then hit LaRoche on the base of his thumb, causing the ligament to tear.

   --1B Mark Sweeney was also taken off the list for the China trip, as he has a sore left knee. He has been out for a week after having fluid drained from the joint.

   --1B James Loney is, as usual, having a spectacular spring. He is expected to be the Dodgers' everyday first baseman this season, meaning he will begin the season in the majors for the first time.

   --LHP Tom Martin, who had been trying to earn a bullpen job, was released by the Dodgers. Martin, 37, allowed two runs in 3 2/3 innings this spring. He appears to have been lost a duel with LHP Mike Myers, who has pitched scoreless ball over four innings and who has pitched for Torre in the past.

   --INF Tony Abreu, who didn't appear in a Grapefruit League game until Friday because of an abdominal injury, is now battling a gluteus injury he suffered in that first game. Abreu told manager Joe Torre the injury occurred when he was running out a groundball in his first at-bat of the spring.

   --RHP James McDonald, RHP Jonathan Meloan, RHP Justin Orenduff and RHP Mario Alvarez were reassigned to the Dodgers' minor league camp. McDonald made just one appearance in the Grapefruit League, pitching a shutout inning Sunday.

3B Blake DeWitt was brought over to the major league camp to help compensate for the injuries to 3B Nomar Garciaparra, 3B Andy LaRoche and INF Tony Abreu. DeWitt is 3-for-10 in his first four Grapefruit League games with a double and a homer and a fine glove.

--2B Jeff Kent continues to battle a left hamstring pull he suffered while running outfield sprints Wednesday, but he is getting better. Kent is able to take batting practice, but he hasn't started running. Manager Joe Torre said Kent won't return to Grapefruit League play until he returns from China.

By the Numb3rs
: 115,000 -- People expected to attend the Dodgers' March 29 exhibition with the Boston Red Sox at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, shattering the previous attendance record for a Major League Baseball game. The Dodgers have long since sold out the 90,505 seats, as well as more than half the additional 25,000 standing-room only tickets that were also made available.
The famous football venue, where the Dodgers played their home games from 1958-61, will feature a depth of 200 feet down the leftfield line and a 62-foot net fronting the left field wall to cut down (somewhat) on cheap home runs.

Quote to Note: "There is no reason to (think about making the team). I'm taking it day by day, just keeping myself healthy, getting myself here early and doing whatever I can to keep my body right. If I just keep playing hard, that other stuff will take care of itself in the end. After the last couple of years, I'm just happy I can play." -- Dodgers outfielder Jason Repko, who missed all of last season with a hamstring injury and more than two months of 2006 with an ankle injury.

He has little chance of doing so because the club won't carry more than five outfielders, leaving only one spot for a backup, and Delwyn Young is out of minor league options.

Roster Projection
   With Andy LaRoche's unfortunate injury clearing the third base picture, the lineup is set at every position. The addition of free agent CF Andruw Jones means Juan Pierre, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp will have to share time until they sort themselves out, but it also makes the club better both offensively and defensively.

The rotation is set except for the fifth spot, which will go to RHP Jason Schmidt when he is healthy, and there are several major league veterans in camp who will compete for no more than one open spot in the bullpen, including Esteban Loaiza, Chan-Ho Park, Hong-Chih Kuo and Jason Johnson.

Arrivals: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (free agent from Hiroshima Carp), C Gary Bennett (free agent from Cardinals), CF Andruw Jones (free agent from Braves), RHP Mike Koplove (minor league free agent from Indians), LHP Mike Myers (minor league free agent from White Sox), RHP Chan Ho Park (minor league free agent from Astros), OF Nook Logan (minor league free agent from Nationals).

Departures: LF Luis Gonzalez (free agent, signed with Marlins), LHP Mark Hendrickson (non-tendered, signed with Marlins, RHP Roberto Hernandez (free agent, unsigned), INF Shea Hillenbrand (free agent, unsigned), RHP D.J. Houlton (contract sold to Fukuoka Softbank Hawks), C Mike Lieberthal (retired), INF Olmedo Saenz (free agent, signed minor league deal with Mets), LHP David Wells (free agent, unsigned), LHP Randy Wolf (free agent, signed with Padres), C Chad Moeller (free agent, signed minor league deal with Nationals), RHP Chin-hui Tsao (free agent, signed minor league deal with Royals), INF Wilson Valdez (contract sold to Kia Tigers).

Projected Rotation
   1. RHP Brad Penny
  2. RHP Derek Lowe
  3. RHP Hiroki Kuroda
  4. RHP Chad Billingsley
  5. RHP Esteban Loaiza or Chan-Ho Park
This rotation is solid, with Billingsley having long been considered the organization's top pitching prospect and Kuroda having been pursued by as many as 20 teams after he announced over the winter he was coming to the United States. Penny and Lowe are both entering their walk years and thus will have added incentive to pitch well. The fifth starting job may be in a state of flux for a time.
Projected Bullpen
RHP Takashi Saito (closer)
  RHP Jonathan Broxton
  RHP Scott Proctor
  LHP Joe Beimel
  LHP Hong-Chih Kuo
  RHP Yhency Brazoban
  RHP Rudy Seanez
   There are going to be a lot of unhappy big-league veterans at the end of spring training, because the Dodgers are bringing five of them to camp on minor league contracts, and simple math suggests there won't be a spot for any of them, especially if Seanez is back in the fold.
Saito has become one of the game's most reliable closers over the past two seasons, but Broxton has the overpowering stuff to step into the role if Saito falters or suffers an injury.
Brazoban and Kuo are coming off injuries, but they are expected to be healthy by the start of spring training. Beimel and Proctor were a solid lefty-righty combination down the stretch.
Projected Lineup
1. SS Rafael Furcal
  2. LF Juan Pierre
  3. CF Andruw Jones
  4. 2B Jeff Kent
  5. RF Andre Ethier/Matt Kemp
  6. 1B James Loney
  7. C Russell Martin
  8. 3B Nomar Garciaparra
The Dodgers finished next to last in the National League with 129 home runs last year, and Jones should have a big impact on improving that number even though he is coming off a "down" year in which he hit only 26 homers and drove in 94 runs while batting .222 for Atlanta. Both totals would have led the 2007 Dodgers team.
The lineup could be made better still if Pierre could draw enough walks to move into the leadoff spot, which would allow manager Joe Torre to drop Furcal to the two hole, where Furcal's bat-handling skills would come in handy hitting ahead of Jones.
Any lineup that has Martin hitting seventh is a dangerous one. But even with the addition of Jones, the aging Kent will have to produce in the cleanup spot if the Dodgers are to win.
Projected Reserves
C Gary Bennett
  INF Ramon Martinez
  INF Tony Abreu
  OF Delwyn Young
With 3B Andy LaRoche getting hurt, the odds of Abreu, Hu and/or Martinez sticking on the 25-man roster increased significantly. Hu is too young to be a utility player and will probably be sent to Las Vegas to play every day. Some discussion about picking up another veteran infielders would seal that deal.
Young has never been counted among the organization's top prospects, but he has exceeded expectations at almost every level. He went 13-for-34 (including 4-for-12 as a pinch hitter) in two big-league stints last year, and he somehow found time in between to tie the modern Pacific Coast League record with 54 doubles for Class AAA Las Vegas. His fielding has taken a mega-jump and probably earned him a spot on the 25-man roster.
Top Rookies
LHP Clayton Kershaw would help the rotation right now although he won't turn 20 until March 19. The Dodgers want to take it slow with him but if problems develop, he'll get the call.
RHP James McDonald burst onto the organizational scene last year, going a combined 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA at Class A Inland Empire and Class AA Jacksonville. He is going to big-league camp for the first time after being added to the roster this winter. A tired arm slowed him this spring.
RHP Jonathan Meloan, a potential closer, was a victim of too many butterflies in his big-league debut, posting an 11.05 ERA in five appearances, but he went a combined 7-2 with a 2.03 ERA at Jacksonville and Class Las Vegas. He has overpowering stuff and could be back in the majors sometime this year. He was considered as a starter but nothing has come of that this spring.

*M*A*S*H* 4077 Report
3B Andy LaRoche (torn ligament in right thumb) was scheduled to undergo surgery March 10 and will be out eight to 10 weeks.
3B Nomar Garciaparra (sore right wrist) was hurt March 7. He will not travel with the team to China.
   INF Tony Abreu (sore gluteus) was hurt March 7. He is day-to-day. The club is dismayed by his various injuries.
1B Mark Sweeney (sore left knee) has been out since March 5. He is day-to-day.
2B Jeff Kent (sore left hamstring) was scratched from the lineup March 5, and he will sit out until completely healthy.
RHP Takashi Saito (strained right calf) will sit out at least until the team's trip to China, beginning March 12 and won't be used until the pain completely goes away.
RHP Yhency Brazoban (right shoulder surgery in June 2007) is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season but his added bulk may hold him back. He is working on reducing his tonnage.
RHP Jason Schmidt (right shoulder surgery in June 2007) was shut down from throwing for three days early in spring training after feeling fatigued during a bullpen session. He is not expected to be ready to pitch by Opening Day.