Marking Time Until Spring Training

Despite the Dodgers' quiet offseason, the starting lineup and bullpen is set, and those players will use the spring just to get ready for the season. Even the bench has come together in recent weeks. All eyes this spring, then, will be on the No. 5 spot in the rotation, which has shaped up into an open tryout among nearly a dozen candidates.

The only real drama among the position players will be an interesting battle at second base that is shaping up between Ronnie Belliard, Jamey Carroll and Blake DeWitt.

Belliard was the late-season acquisition who unseated Gold Glove winner Orlando Hudson from his starting spot late in the season and on into the playoffs.

Carroll was one of the team's few free agent acquisitions this winter, while DeWitt is a natural third baseman who will be searching for a roster spot for the third consecutive season. Belliard is the clear-cut favorite.

Unlike 2009, when the Dodgers were able to sign Randy Wolf just before spring training began, they weren't able to bring in late reinforcements. They did re-sign Vicente Padilla, which eliminated the possibility of having two open rotation spots this spring.

There will be no shortage of reclamation projects as camp unfolds, with veterans Russ Ortiz, Ramon Ortiz and Josh Towers all getting a chance at a starting spot as non-roster invitees. Angel Berroa, Alfredo Amezaga and Brian Giles all will compete for bench spots.

WHERE: Camelback Ranch, Glendale, Ariz. Heading into its second spring, the ballpark the Dodgers share with the White Sox already leads the Cactus League in rust. Fortunately, the oxidation was part of the architect's plan.

TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: RHP Chad Billingsley had a horrible second half in 2009 and was a non-factor come playoff time. A mechanical flaw was blamed, but the 25-year old did have surgery on a broken leg the previous offseason. It's easy to forget he was an All-Star last season.

TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: LF Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games, slumped badly in the second half, and when the Dodgers were desperate to clinch a playoff spot, he batted .152 over his final 33 at-bats. How could it get worse? He did bat .290 last year with 19 home runs and 63 RBIs.

AUTHORITY FIGURES: Manager Joe Torre has been just what the Dodgers needed, as his teams have gone 179-145 over his first two seasons and won back-to-back NL West titles. Getting the most out of Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal and Russell Martin will be his big challenge in 2010.

NOTES, QUOTES
--OF Brian Giles signed a minor league contract and received an invitation to big-league camp. Giles missed most of last season with the Padres because of an arthritic right knee. He is a career .291 hitter over 15 seasons and has 287 home runs, but the 39-year old hasn't hit more than 15 homers since 2004.

--OF Matt Kemp has vowed to continue to cut down on his strikeout totals. He struck out a franchise-record 153 times in 2008. Last season, he cut that down to 139, which was still 23 more than anybody else on the team had. Kemp did have 52 walks in 2009, six more than had recorded the previous season.

--3B Casey Blake will be getting more time off in the upcoming season, manager Joe Torre has said. Blake, 36, missed time last season with hamstring injuries to both legs. It didn't slow his defense, as Blake's .976 fielding percentage is the best among all Dodgers third basemen who have played at least 175 games with the club.

--C Russell Martin will join LF Manny Ramirez and 3B Casey Blake in getting more downtime in the upcoming season. Martin, who turns 27 on Feb. 15, has had at least 500 at bats in each of the past three seasons. His 1,201 1/3 innings caught in 2009 led the major leagues.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Scripted television shows manager Joe Torre will appear on during a span of just over a month. He has spots in episodes of ABC's "Castle" and CBS's "Gary Unmarried." Torre plays himself in both episodes.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I didn't think all that would come out of it, it just happened. I'm not used to that much attention to my personal life. It's really not that big a deal. But in L.A., doing things here, you're under a microscope; they're examining everything you're doing. It's L.A., man, the city we live in. It is what it is. Can't control what happens." -- OF Matt Kemp, on becoming tabloid fodder following a Mexico vacation with Grammy Award winner Rihanna.

ROSTER REPORT
Back-to-back appearances in the NL Championship Series have set the bar high for the 2010 Dodgers team that will look strikingly similar to the 2009 club. Every position player who started in last year's postseason will return, keeping the drama to a minimum this spring. Replacing contributions from LHP Randy Wolf and 2B Orlando Hudson won't be easy.

ARRIVALS: RHP Josh Towers (minor league free agent from Yankees), INF Jamey Carroll (free agent from Indians), RHP Justin Miller (minor league free agent from Giants), INF Nick Green (minor league free agent from Red Sox), OF Reed Johnson (free agent from Cubs), UT Alfredo Amezaga (minor league free agent from Marlins), OF Brian Giles (minor league free agent from Padres).

DEPARTURES: LHP Randy Wolf (free agent, signed with Brewers), INF Juan Castro (free agent, signed with Phillies), OF Juan Pierre (traded to White Sox), INF Mark Loretta (retired), 1B Jim Thome (free agent, signed with Twins), RHP Jon Garland (free agent, signed with Padres), RHP Guillermo Mota (free agent, signed minor league deal with Giants), 2B Orlando Hudson (free agent, signed with Twins), LHP Eric Milton (free agent, unsigned), RHP Jason Schmidt (free agent, unsigned).

SPRING FOCUS: The fifth spot in the rotation is an open casting call among nearly a dozen candidates. LHP Eric Stults and RHP James McDonald are the young candidates. RHPs Russ Ortiz, Ramon Ortiz and Josh Towers are the veteran challengers.

PROJECTED ROTATION:
1. LHP Clayton Kershaw
2. RHP Hiroki Kuroda
3. RHP Chad Billingsley
4. RHP Vicente Padilla
5. LHP Eric Stults


Up until the All-Star break last season, Billingsley appeared to be the logical No. 1 starter of this group. Now Kershaw, 22, has the best staff-ace potential after Billingsley faltered in the second half because of what he called a mechanical flaw. Stults and RHP James McDonald are the leaders of a large group vying for the No. 5 spot. RHP Charlie Haeger and his knuckleball could make a run for the final rotation spot as well, while veterans such as RHPs Russ Ortiz, Ramon Ortiz and Josh Towers need to turn back the clock.

PROJECTED BULLPEN:
RHP Jonathan Broxton
LHP George Sherrill
RHP Ramon Troncoso
RHP Ronald Belisario
LHP Hong Chih-Kuo
RHP James McDonald
RHP Cory Wade


Broxton throws as hard as anybody in the game, and when his confidence is high, he can't be beat. Infrequent command issues, though, can lead to disastrous results. Sherrill was a big contributor at the end of the regular season but struggled in the postseason.

Troncoso and Belisario are young power arms who have a high ceiling. Kuo and Wade need to show they can stay healthy, with RHP Jon Link waiting in the wings. McDonald eventually will make his way to the rotation.

PROJECTED LINEUP:
1. SS Rafael Furcal
2. CF Matt Kemp
3. RF Andre Ethier
4. LF Manny Ramirez
5. 1B James Loney
6. 3B Casey Blake
7. 2B Ronnie Belliard
8. C Russell Martin


Furcal finally showed at the end of the 2009 regular season that he might be ready to get back to his old self after undergoing back surgery in 2008. Kemp and Ethier have come into their own, but that doesn't lessen the expectation of Ramirez, whose second half in 2009 was a disappointment.

Loney is a steady opposite-field hitter but has yet to prove he is a power threat. Manager Joe Torre figures to give Blake and Belliard frequent days off, while Martin needs to get back to being the kind of run producer he was in 2007 and 2008.

PROJECTED RESERVES:
C Brad Ausmus
INF Jamey Carroll
1B Doug Mientkiewicz
OF Reed Johnson
OF Jason Repko


Ausmus, at 41, figures to get more playing time than in 2009 to save the legs of Martin, who caught over 1,200 innings in 2009 to lead baseball. Carroll will be the super utility man on the infield, while Mientkiewicz serves as the left-handed bat off the bench.

Johnson is another player who figures to get a decent amount of playing time since manager Joe Torre already has said that he plans on giving Ramirez more rest this season.

TOP ROOKIES: RHP Carlos Monasterios, a Rule 5 pickup from the Phillies, was recommended by Ron Rizzi, the same scout who pulled RHP Ronald Belisario off the scrap heap a year ago. OF Xavier Paul is ready for a do-over after reaching the major leagues last year only to have his stay reduced to 14 at-bats because of a staph infection in his leg.

MEDICAL WATCH:
--INF/OF Alfredo Amezaga (microfracture left knee surgery in July 2009) should be ready for spring training.

--RHP Travis Schlichting (back spasms) looks to be recovered from two back injuries in 2009. He tested himself in the Arizona Fall League.

--OF Xavier Paul (staph infection, sprained ankle) was in the major leagues for just 11 games before landing on the disabled list May 21. He stayed there the rest of the season. He already is at full strength.

--RHP Vicente Padilla (gunshot wound in right leg) was hurt Nov. 3, but the injury was reportedly minor.

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