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It's a Gruel, Gruel World
2004-03-15 10:28
by Jon Weisman

When your modest expectations for a left-handed bat off the bench are Todd Hundley and Jeremy Giambi, and neither player has the backbone (almost literally) to stay healthy, Oliver Twist starts to look like Richie Rich.

The Dodger roster is shaping up to be the opposite of Musical Chairs: too many seats, not enough orbiting kids.

Here's how the roster projects today, with players meriting further discussion in italics:

Starting Rotation (5): Hideo Nomo, Odalis Perez, Kazuhisa Ishii, Jeff Weaver, Edwin Jackson

Bullpen (6): Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota, Paul Shuey, Tom Martin, Wilson Alvarez, Darren Dreifort

Opening Day Lineup (8): Dave Roberts, Cesar Izturis, Adrian Beltre, Shawn Green, Paul Lo Duca, Juan Encarnacion, Robin Ventura, Jolbert Cabrera

Bench (6): Dave Ross, Bubba Trammell, Alex Cora, Jason Romano, Olmedo Saenz, Koyie Hill

Next in Line: Jose Lima, Joe Thurston, Steve Colyer, Chin-Feng Chen

Ishii will probably start the season in the rotation and may even stay there - he still has more strikeout potential than Lima, Perez or Weaver. But with a multitude of candidates and a dearth of leeway, Ishii figures to be on a shorter leash than in previous seasons.

It was probably my imagination, but Dreifort appeared depressed during his inning of work. He had a chance for an at-bat Sunday and some double-duty practice, but went out for a pinch-hitter.

Ventura gets the Opening Day starting nod based on the likelihood that the Padres' starting pitcher will be right-handed. That's the only criteria, and there are certainly other options. Ventura was signed to be a bench player, and in any semblance of an ideal world, that's what he would be.

Cora still doesn't have a Spring Training at-bat but could start the season as a reserve. If he gets a rehab assignment instead, Thurston will earn his spot. I watched Thurston on Sunday's exhibition telecast - he made good contact with his bat and with his hip, but is a hacker all the way. And, he got picked off at second base. He'll do well at this point if he can match Wilton Guerrero's career.

I can't say for sure how many hits Romano, the teacher's pet, has been racking up in the late innings of Spring Training against minor-league pitching, but I know it's a fair amount. Out of options, Romano has nonetheless taken advantage of this opportunity to build up appearances and play himself onto the roster - the team really wants him to succeed.

Saenz continues to be my pick over Jose Hernandez for the endowed Ron Coomer Memorial Professional Right-Handed Hitter Chair.

With Giambi's injuries, the Dodgers may be even more inclined to play catcher Lo Duca at catcher and first base, and have to be more inclined to find an alternative source for left-handed fuel. This spot could also go to Thurston - and hell, it'd be fun, albeit damaging, to see James Loney out youngify Jackson - but right now, Hill remains the best solution.

Lima got through four innings Sunday in 42 pitches, but against a AAA-level lineup. Certainly, the Dodgers want him as insurance and may placate him by including him in the bullpen. Even so, though he has said he won't go to the minors, he would do well to wait out Ishii, Dreifort or Alvarez if that turns out to be his only option. In fact, once the Dodgers pass two early season off days on April 8 and 12, they may decide to go to 12 pitchers and add Lima.

Colyer has not had a good spring but should stay on the ready, particularly with the fragile health of fellow lefties Alvarez and Martin.

Chen is 3 for 7 since solving his visa problems - maybe he'll sneak on somehow with a late run.

Finally, a word about Izturis. He batted second Sunday, as appears to be the plan. In the first inning, he sacrificed with Wilkin Ruan on second base - giving up a critical out to move a speedy runner 90 feet. He later came up with Joe Thurston in scoring position and two out, and made the third out. If Dodger manager Jim Tracy thinks he can hide a weak hitter in the No. 2 slot either by making him a full-time bunter or simply hoping for the best, it's probably wishful thinking.

Late in Sunday's game, Izturis singled Ruan from first to third. The wishful thinking will no doubt continue.

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