Dodgers' bullpen coming together

Updated: March 15, 2011, 12:41 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was asked after Monday's Cactus League game, a 5-4 loss to the Texas Rangers before 7,742 at Surprise Stadium, about where right-hander John Ely fits into the club's plans for the immediate future. More to the point, Mattingly was asked whether Ely could be considered for a bullpen spot if the Dodgers determine they can get through the first few days of the season without a fifth starter, the job Ely presently is vying for.

"No, our bullpen is kind of shaping up OK," Mattingly said. "He could probably do it, but I think we see him as a starter."

Mattingly wouldn't reveal any specifics as to exactly how that bullpen is shaping up or who might be in it, except for the implication that Ely won't be. But when asked to clarify his statement, he did concede that yes, he has started to envision specific individuals in specific spots that are open.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Broxton
Harry How/Getty ImagesWhile much of the bullpen could change, Jonathan Broxton appears to be secure in his support role.

So who might those individuals be?

A lot depends on whether the Dodgers go with the usual seven relievers or initially afford themselves the luxury of an eighth because they don't have to use a fifth starter until the 11th game of the season on April 12 at San Francisco. But the Dodgers have a glut of outfielders, and the extra roster spot -- which will exist until either fifth starter Jon Garland returns from his oblique strain or the club brings up a fifth starter from the minors -- could buy the Dodgers time with outfielder Xavier Paul, who is out of minor league options.

With four bullpen spots held down by Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Matt Guerrier and Blake Hawksworth, two of what are likely to be three remaining spots could be taken by non-roster right-hander Mike MacDougal and last year's rookie sensation, Kenley Jansen.

"He is throwing the ball good," Mattingly said, with a subtle grin on his face, when asked specifically about MacDougal, the veteran and former All-Star closer who hasn't allowed an earned run in five appearances this spring. "He is fine," Mattingly had said a few minutes earlier about Jansen, who finally gave up his first Cactus League run against the Rangers, in his fifth appearance.

It is what happens with the last spot that remains a mystery.

"There is still a competition going on," Mattingly said.

It could be another lefty, but both Scott Elbert and Ron Mahay have struggled this spring. It could be Ramon Troncoso, who has considerable big league experience and was having an outstanding spring before a rough outing earlier this week. It could be a surprise from minor league camp, where Josh Lindblom appears to have recaptured his lost mechanics.

A likely scenario, though, is that the Dodgers will keep non-roster veteran Tim Redding, who is Ely's only competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. Redding's innings are being built up for starting, meaning that when the season begins, he could be a long man out of the bullpen, step into the fifth spot if Garland isn't ready or stay in the bullpen as a long man if the Dodgers decide to go with Ely for the fifth spot.

Redding is having a solid spring, having allowed four runs on 10 hits over 12 innings. He has struck out seven and walked three.

The entire picture could change in the two weeks that remain before the Dodgers break camp and the 17 days still to go before their March 31 season opener against the Giants.

Back to basics

Ely was roughed up for four runs (three earned) on six hits over four innings after having pitched six scoreless innings to start the spring, and he gave up a three-run homer to reigning American League Most Valuable Player Josh Hamilton. But he still hasn't walked a batter in 10 innings this spring, and when you consider what it was that differentiated the two faces of Ely's rookie season, that alone is huge.

When Ely first came to the majors last year, coaches, front-office officials and beat writers alike marveled at how aggressive he was for such a young pitcher, how he constantly pounded the strike zone and fearlessly pitched to contact. But everything seemed to change in a June 17 start against the Cincinnati Reds, when Ely, for the first time in his big league career, was truly pounded, to the tune of seven runs on eight hits over 4 2/3 innings.

Before that game, Ely walked 13 batters in 56 innings. Beginning with that game, he walked 27 batters in 44 innings the rest of the season.

"I think it was all about trying to do too much," Ely said. "I had a bad one, and I didn't realize how much the spotlight really turns up on you after that, especially at this level. You start thinking, 'I have to do this, and I have to do that,' when really, all I had to do was get back to what I was doing before."

Ely said it took stepping away for a few months during the offseason for that lesson to really, fully sink in.

"You always know what you have to do, but it's a matter of doing it," he said. "That is hard when you're not mentally fresh, because you're always fighting yourself, and I did a lot of fighting myself at the end of last year."

Plan B

Although Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake isn't expected to miss much time because of the soreness around his rib cage that has sidelined him since Saturday -- he was sent for a precautionary MRI on Monday just to make sure it wasn't something serious -- his sudden absence has raised questions of how the Dodgers' lineup might look without him.

Mattingly said that in that case, he likely would move Juan Uribe to third and insert utility man Jamey Carroll at second rather than the other way around.

"Jamey is more of a middle guy," Mattingly said. "I think [third] fits Juan better, but we'll have to see."

Although Carroll has played far more games (275) at third in his career than Uribe (154), Uribe has a .960 fielding percentage at the position to Carroll's .945 there.

Pep talk

Elbert pitched a scoreless fifth inning, allowing one hit, but was once again erratic, issuing back-to-back, two-out walks to Michael Young and Nelson Cruz to load the bases. It was at this point that Mattingly, who normally goes to the mound only to make pitching changes, went to the mound and didn't make one.

"I told him just to pick his pitch and throw it," Mattingly said. "I know everybody has been working with him and getting him to do a lot of stuff. I just wanted to try to keep it simple for him in that situation. Just pick a pitch and throw it."

Elbert needed one more pitch to get out of the jam, David Murphy popping it up to center field. Still, Elbert walked off the mound having walked nine of the 20 batters he has faced so far this spring.

Short hops

Following two consecutive split-squad dates over the weekend, one of which involved a plane trip to Las Vegas, the Dodgers brought a travel squad that hardly met the generally accepted standard of at least four or five regular players. Of the 10 players (including a designated hitter) in the starting lineup, only Carroll and Marcus Thames are locks for the season-opening roster, and neither is expected to be an everyday player. Mattingly said that before setting the travel squad, the team cleared it with the Rangers, who had paying customers to consider, and that they completely understood. ...

The Dodgers and NBC Los Angeles will hold a relief event Tuesday at Dodger Stadium to raise money for the American Red Cross Japan earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. Donors who give $20 or more will receive two tickets to one of the upcoming spring training games at the stadium, against the Angels on March 28 or the Seattle Mariners on March 30. Donations will be accepted from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT. ...

The Dodgers (5-15) play the Rangers again Tuesday, this time at Camelback Ranch. Scheduled opening-day starter Clayton Kershaw will make his fourth start of the spring for the Dodgers against lefty Derek Holland.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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