- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Scott Elbert, who probably figures more prominently into the team's plans this spring than at any previous point since he was drafted in the first round some seven years ago, appeared to be a little over-amped in his first Cactus League appearance Saturday.
The result was a shaky inning in which he walked two of the five batters he faced and would have walked a third if Los Angeles Angels prospect Chris Pettit hadn't struck out on a 3-and-2 pitch in the dirt. But on the plus side, Elbert didn't give up a hit or a run, and Pettit was one of two strikeout victims in that bottom of the sixth inning of the Angels' 4-1 Cactus League-opening victory over a Dodgers split squad before 6,063 at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
The Dodgers also lost their other game, 8-3 to the San Francisco Giants before 8,287 at Scottsdale Stadium in Don Mattingly's unofficial managerial debut.
Elbert needed 15 pitches to get through his inning, but the important thing was that he did actually get through it.
"He looked like he was rushing it a little bit, but it's all about making adjustments at that point," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "He was able to finish it up, and that was good."
Elbert, 25, has come a long way in the past year. More specifically, he has come a long way since he went AWOL in the middle of the minor league season last summer for reasons that still haven't come to light, although Elbert later insisted it had nothing to do with a baseball career that still didn't appear to be gaining any traction.
Since then, though, Elbert has rebounded to turn in a stellar performance in the Arizona Fall League, where as fate would have it he got to pitch for Mattingly. He also was impressive throwing on the side during the Dodgers' winter-development program, to the point that he came to spring training as arguably one of the favorites in the competition for what figured at the time to be one opening in the team's bullpen.
Then came the less-than-shocking failure to show up by Ronald Belisario and an unexpected surgical procedure for Vicente Padilla, and suddenly, now there are three openings -- a fact that can only help Elbert's chances.
Elbert has a total of 30 major league appearances, only one of which came last year. There is no way of knowing whether he might have been called up again in 2010 if he hadn't bolted, although he probably could have at least counted on a September callup. But after he struggled for so many years, there is a sense now that his moment might have arrived.
"He is throwing the ball as good as I have seen him in a long time," Honeycutt said.
Still, if Elbert is to take advantage of the opportunity that lies before him, the one thing he has to do this spring is throw strikes and be efficient with his pitches.
In a fourth-inning showdown between two of the respective teams' top prospects, the Angels went ahead to stay when first baseman Mark Trumbo, who tied for the lead in all of minor league baseball last season by slamming 36 home runs, slammed another one, a two-run shot off reigning Dodgers' minor league pitcher of the year Rubby De La Rosa.
That erased a 1-0 Dodgers lead and put the Angels in front to stay.
With Kendry Morales not expected to make his Cactus League debut for the Angels for a couple of weeks -- he is in the final stages of rehabilitation from the left ankle he famously fractured celebrating after hitting a walkoff grand slam against the Seattle Mariners last May -- Trumbo figures to get enough playing time to make at least some kind of an impression on general manager Tony Reagins, manager Mike Scioscia and the coaching staff.
After one game, that impression is a positive one.
"I'm just looking at it as more of an opportunity," said Trumbo, who also hit .301 with 29 doubles and 122 RBIs for Triple-A Salt Lake last year. "If I start worrying about that other stuff, it won't help. I'm just trying to do my best and make sure I take good approaches at the plate."
Justin Sellers started at second base for the Dodgers against the Angels and drew two walks in two plate appearances -- the second at the end of a prolonged battle after he quickly fell behind 0-2 to highly touted prospect Garrett Richards -- and stole a base. He also turned the pivot on two double plays during his five innings in the field.
Sellers, who grew up in Huntington Beach, has been an under-the-radar infielder in the Dodgers' system since assistant general manager DeJon Watson acquired him in a minor league trade with the Chicago Cubs at the end of camp two years ago. Now 25, he is coming off a breakout season and suddenly is right in the mix, along with Juan Castro, Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Aaron Miles, for a final utility-infield spot the Dodgers might not even have when camp breaks.
After a midseason promotion to Albuquerque, Sellers hit .285 with 14 homers, 15 RBIs and a .371 on-base percentage, and he struck out just 49 times in 344 plate appearances.
The Dodgers' other game got out of hand when two pitchers who probably have little chance of making the Opening Day roster, Carlos Monasterios and Oscar Villareal, each gave up four runs in back-to-back innings. Monasterios gave up a two-run triple to the Giants' Nate Schierholtz, and Villareal gave up a two-run homer to Pablo Sandoval. ... Hiroki Kuroda started against the Angels and faced the minimum over two innings, giving up just a one-out single to Hank Conger in the second. Honeycutt said Kuroda made frequent use of his new curveball. ... The Dodgers' March 31 season opener against the Giants sold out in less than two hours Saturday, although a handful of tickets were held back to be sold as part of season-ticket plans and mini plans. ... The Dodgers' Cactus League home opener against the Angels is set for Sunday in Glendale, Ariz., but rain and cold weather are in the forecast.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.