Schmidt May Claim Fifth Starting Slot

Jason Schmidt made his first start in a Cactus League game this year and appeared on a major-league mound for the first time in almost two years. And while he didn't make anyone forget Don Drysdale, the surgically repaired right-hander worked a pair of innings that led manager Joe Torre to say, "If he continued to show he's healthy and maintains his effectiveness, the fifth spot is his to lose."

That comment is a far cry from the feeling in the Dodgers' camp previously that he would not be a factor in this, his third season withe the club. His pitches ranged in the high 80s, about what could be expected in his first outing.

He allowed a bunt single in the first and rookie catcher A.J. Ellis continued to show his talents by throwing the runner out attempting to steal. He fanned the first two Rangers he faced in the second, former Dodger Andruw Jones and Travis Metcalf, with breaking balls before the wheels fell off and he allowed three runs.

"Those were supposed to be sliders, but I call them breaking balls now," Schmidt reported after the game. "I don't really know what they were. I was just trying to spin them. I haven't thrown one yet this spring and they worked really well."

"I don't think there's any question," manager Joe Torre told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. "His experience certainly adds a lot to the rotation. He's always had movement, he's got to keep his pitches down. I think the velocity will get better. If he stays healthy, what we saw today is not as good as it will get."

Schmidt walked a pair of Texas batters before Taylor Teagarden smacked a home run. After 34 pitches he got the final out of the inning and felt good that he had exceeded the one inning he was scheduled to pitch.

"One thing I'm still struggling with is that when I get deep into my pitch count, the ball starts riding up on me," Schmidt said. "Why that is, I don't have an answer. It happened in my (minor-league) rehab starts last year, too."

Schmidt had a breakthrough session earlier, saying his changeup had the diving movement it had when he was in his prime, and even his fastball seemed to have more velocity.

"I watched some video and saw that I needed to use my lower body more," Schmidt said. "I noticed my head wasn't moving and I wasn't dropping and driving. Sometimes you get in the habit of using your top half and forget about the lower half."

"His arm was freer in the 'pen," said Honeycutt. "He showed he's got a little bounce-back."

The Dodgers will not need a fifth starter for a full month, until April 10 at Arizona, so he has time to work out the problems that have shown themsleves.

Claudio Vargas, another vying for the fifth spot, was tagged for six hits (three of them homers) and four runs before leaving in the fifth inning.

What Recession?: Flying in the face of recession fears, Dodger fans snapped more than 49,000 tickets for the 2009 regular season, a 33% increase over the 37,000 they bought on the first day of single game sales last year. The club, which brought back free agents outfielder Manny Ramirez, third baseman Casey Blake, and shortstop Rafael Furcal, plus added second baseman Orlando Hudson and left handed starter Randy Wolf, have held tickets at 2008 prices.  

"We are seeing how eager families are to incorporate the Dodgers into their spring and summer plans," said Chief Operating Officer Dennis Mannion.  "We also saw such evidence today at Camelback Ranch, where our third home game drew our biggest crowd, 11,896. Enthusiasm is high."   

Single game tickets for the regular season are now on sale via dodgers.com, via telephone (866-DODGERS), and at TicketMaster outlets and the Dodger Stadium box office.

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