- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario is expecting to receive his U.S. visa either Sunday or Monday and will fly to Phoenix for spring training the following day, a Venezuelan source said Saturday night on the condition of anonymity.
Belisario would have had a guaranteed spot in the Dodgers' season-opening bullpen if he had arrived in camp on time or close to on time. But he already has missed about two-thirds of the spring, and club officials have no idea whether he has been on a regular throwing program.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said Friday night that all the necessary paperwork had been filled out and turned in by both the club and Belisario and that the parties had reached the point of simply waiting for the visa to come through.
At best, Belisario will be in the proverbial dog house from the moment he arrives because of the perception his delayed arrival was due to his own failure to keep appointments or tend to matters in a timely manner. At worst, if club officials deem him to be out of shape, he will be suspended indefinitely until he is deemed to be in shape.
Either way, it is difficult at this point to imagine Belisario beginning the season on the active major league roster because of the limited time left before Opening Day and the fact there probably aren't enough spring training games left to adequately prepare him to be effective in a regular-season, major league game.
Belisario had an outstanding rookie season last year, posting a 2.04 ERA in 69 appearances after the Dodgers signed him as a six-year, minor league free agent last winter. Previously, Belisario had logged time with the Florida and Pittsburgh organizations but had never pitched above the Double-A level
As it turns out, his flaky behavior might be in keeping with a long-established pattern. A source close to the Marlins said one of the reasons that organization let Belisario go after he missed all of the 2005 and 2006 seasons following Tommy John surgery was the fact he seemed to feel no sense of urgency about getting back on the field. Meanwhile, a Venezuelan newspaper reported earlier this spring that Belisario simply left La Guaira, his Venezuelan Winter League team, without explanation this offseason.
Torre not ready to name starter
On second thought, the identity of the Dodgers' Opening Day starter will remain a mystery for a little longer.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre said after the first half of Saturday's split-squad doubleheader, a 5-4 victory over the Texas Rangers before 8,117 at Surprise Stadium, that he won't officially announce who will start the team's April 5 opener at Pittsburgh until at least Wednesday. That was a sudden reversal from what Torre had said a few days ago -- that the announcement would come by the end of this week.
"We'll look at sometime after the off day," Torre said in reference to Tuesday. "We have a couple of options, obviously."
All indications are still that left-hander Clayton Kershaw will get the nod, with Chad Billingsley likely to start the second game against the Pirates and the home opener against Arizona on April 13. But Torre said pitching coach Rick Honeycutt still has given no hint to any of the four confirmed members of the starting rotation as to where each of them will be slotted during the season's first week.
McDonald optioned to minors
The Dodgers optioned right-hander James McDonald to minor-league camp between games of their split-squad doubleheader, ending his bid for a bullpen spot just days after Torre announced McDonald was no longer a candidate for the vacant fifth spot in the starting rotation.
McDonald came to spring training as the de facto favorite to win that fifth spot, but that was before he was rocked for 12 earned runs and 14 hits in 5 1/3 innings as he struggled to get comfortable with a mechanical adjustment he was asked to make.
"He has been working on a lot of stuff," Torre said Saturday morning, before the move was made. "We have to try to get him to be more consistent with his delivery. There are a lot of moving parts because he is a tall kid, which is something that is going to work to his advantage eventually."
McDonald won the fifth starter's spot in the final days of spring training last season but had lost it by the end of April, when he had an 8.78 ERA in four starts and had failed to pitch beyond the fifth inning in any of them. He remains one of the club's top pitching prospects and is expected to begin the season as a starter at Triple-A Albuquerque.
Towers, Ortiz look strong again
Two of several candidates for the fifth starter's job continued to state their cases against the Rangers. Right-hander Josh Towers gave up a double, a triple and a home run but retired all of the other 12 batters he faced. And righty Ramon Ortiz finally gave up his first run of the spring after pitching nine shutout innings, but he also had a strong outing.
Each went four innings.
Towers has given up three runs in nine innings this spring, including a start in Taiwan, and Ortiz has given up two runs in 13 innings.
The other candidates for the job are right-hander Russ Ortiz, left-hander Eric Stults, knuckleballer Charlie Haeger and Rule 5 pick Carlos Monasterios. Both Stults and Haeger are on the 40-man roster and are out of minor league options. Torre said Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz and Haeger all could be candidates for the bullpen as well.
Ausmus shut down through Wednesday
Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus received an epidural to relieve chronic lower-back pain and will be shut down through Wednesday. However, a club spokesman cautioned that Ausmus has experienced the problem and received the treatment multiple times before during his career and historically has responded well to the epidural, and team officials are cautiously optimistic he is in no danger of missing the start of the season.
The Dodgers already are expected to begin the season with their primary catcher, Russell Martin, on the disabled list because of a right-groin injury. Ausmus was slated to start the season in his regular backup role, with Triple-A catcher A.J. Ellis taking over the starting duties with Martin sidelined.
Lucas May, the only other catcher on the 40-man roster, was optioned Saturday. Two other catchers, J.D. Closser and Justin Knoedler, remain in big league camp as non-roster invitees, but 40-man spots figure to be at a premium when it comes time to set the season-opening roster, so it isn't immediately clear what the Dodgers will do if Ausmus can't play.
Torre to miss another game
Torre returned to Los Angeles after Saturday night's 5-1 split-squad loss to a San Diego Padres split squad so he could attend a play that his daughter is appearing in on Sunday.
Hitting coach Don Mattingly will again take over as acting manager for Sunday's Cactus League game with Cleveland, just as he did during the six days in which Torre was gone to Taiwan with a split squad. Torre is expected back on the bench in time for Monday's game with the Angels.
Camp roster trimmed to 43
After the game, the Dodgers shaved their camp roster to 43 players -- not including Belisario -- by optioning pitcher Jon Link and May to the minor league side.
Link, whom the Dodgers got from the Chicago White Sox in the Juan Pierre trade, was told of his demotion just after picking up the save with a perfect ninth inning against the Rangers. He pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings in four Cactus League appearances, plus another scoreless inning in Taiwan, and Torre said it's possible Link could get a callup sometime this season.
"I like his aggressiveness," Torre said. "He is sort of a throwback to those guys who would come out of the 'pen and say, 'I dare you.' He looks like a no-nonsense guy, and my feeling is he is going to be a big league pitcher."
May is still one of the Dodgers' top catching prospects, but he remains third in the pecking order behind Martin and Ellis.
Source: Stults, Repko, Hu on trade block
Stults has shown flashes of brilliance over the years, including a complete-game shutout each of the past two seasons, but he has struggled to maintain consistency and to gain a foothold in the majors. Hu is hitting .307 (four for 13) this spring, but the Dodgers no longer have an obvious spot for him.
Repko, who will receive a base salary of $500,000 to play in Triple-A for the second year in a row if he remains with the Dodgers, was hitless in 15 at-bats this spring before hitting a solo homer off Texas right-hander Colby Lewis in the fifth inning. Repko barely missed a second homer in the seventh, a shot that left the park but went foul by a few feet.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
24mAdam Lewis, Special to ESPN.com