An­swers are no closer in un­set­tled bullpen

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Steve Dil­beck sports@la­times.com

Some­times things go ex­actly as hoped, and some­times they just zigzag all over. Left be­hind is a puz­zle with very un­cer­tain pieces.

Of all the is­sues the Dodgers faced this off-sea­son, closer was one they fig­ured was cov­ered. Then on the eve of camp, Ken­ley Jansen was un­ex­pect­edly lost for up to 12 weeks af­ter foot surgery.

The Dodgers had six weeks of camp and am­ple re­place­ment can­di­dates, and the hope was one would sep­a­rate him­self and win the in­terim closer’s job.

But with the Dodgers open­ing the sea­son Mon­day, they re­main very much a team with­out a closer. They re­main a team with­out a des­ig­nated eighth-in­ning guy. And even a team with­out a set bullpen.

That’s a lot of un­cer­tainty for a team with cham­pi­onship as­pi­ra­tions. Don Mat­tingly is a manager who strongly prefers to use play­ers in set roles, but with the opener three days away he has no an­nounced bullpen plan.

“We’ll just play it out,” Mat­tingly said. “You have to stay tuned. It’s fluid.”

For the most part, the Dodgers’ vet­eran re­liev­ers have strug­gled this spring while sev­eral young arms have been im­pres­sive. Im­pres­sive in a spring train­ing game, of course, and im­pres­sive play­ing in a ma­jor league sta­dium in front of 40,000 peo­ple are not al­ways the same thing.

Though none has had a strong spring, vet­er­ans J.P. How­ell (8.22 earned-run av­er­age), Joel Per­alta (4.32) and Chris Hatcher (6.23) are ex­pected to make the 25-man ros­ter and, it’s as­sumed, so will Juan Ni­ca­sio (6.75), who is out of op­tions. Paco Ro­driguez has not al­lowed a run in 11 ap­pear­ances and ap­pears to have won a spot.

And then there are young arms Yimi Garcia (0.79 ERA, 15 strike­outs in 10 1 ⁄ 3 innings), Adam Lib­er­a­tore (no runs in 11 games) and Pe­dro Baez (5.40), who in this tight com­pe­ti­tion might have pitched him­self off the team Fri­day when he sur­ren­dered a grand slam to Al­bert Pu­jols in the fifth in­ning of the An­gels’ 6-0 Free­way Se­ries win over the Dodgers at An­gel Sta­dium.

Vet­er­ans Ser­gio San­tos (4.66), David Aardsma (2.00) and David Huff (1.50) also are bat­tling for two spots.

But is there a closer in the house?

“I just don’t think it’s that im­por­tant,” said Gen­eral Manager Farhan Zaidi . “That plays it­self out over the course of the sea­son.”

Some had hoped San­tos, a for­mer Chicago White Sox closer, would step up and win the spot but he’s been told he will not make the open­ing-day ros­ter, ac­cord­ing to a per­son familiar with the sit­u­a­tion. He will be sent to triple-A Ok­la­homa City but can opt out of his con­tract by May 1 if he’s still not on the 25-man ros­ter.

Mat­tingly said with­out a set closer, the ninth in­ning will be­come sit­u­a­tional. And his bullpen will prob­a­bly have two left-han­ders (How­ell, Ro­driguez) and pos­si­bly three (Huff or Lib­er­a­tore). “I’m OK with seven lefties if they get outs,” Mat­tingly said. Two-man job?

Mat­tingly said Scott Van Slyke was in left field Fri­day night in place of Carl Craw­ford be­cause left-han­der An­drew Heaney started for the An­gels. And some­thing of a semi-regular pla­toon might be in the works.

“It could be,” Mat­tingly said. “Van Slyke’s gonna play. There are go­ing to be times he’ll play out there [in left], there will be times he’ll be able to give Adrian [ Gon­za­lez ]a day [at first base]. But Carl hit lefties pretty good last year so I can’t say that I want to just flat out do it.”

Craw­ford bat­ted .321 against left-han­ders in 2014. Line drives

Vet­eran right-han­der Scott Baker agreed to a mi­nor league deal, a source familiar with the sit­u­a­tion said, but still has to pass a phys­i­cal. ... Yasiel Puig and Howie Ken­drick were in the lineup af­ter Thurs­day’s out­field col­li­sion. . . . An­dre Ethier re­ported no prob­lems af­ter play­ing Thurs­day, his first game since a pitch hit him on the right el­bow Tues­day.

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