VERO BEACH, FLA. — A spring as slow as syrup got sticky Sunday as prospects James Loney and Matt Kemp fretted over their fate, Jason Schmidt struggled to reach 90 mph with his fastball, Manager Grady Little all but apologized for a miscommunication with pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo and Brett Tomko was handed the No. 5 spot in the rotation despite not pitching well.
But some things never change -- Larry Bigbie got another big hit.
In their last home game of the spring, the Dodgers defeated the Cleveland Indians, 4-3, when Bigbie followed Russell Martin's pinch-hit and Loney's third hit with a single that drove in both runners when right fielder Casey Blake misplayed the ball.
Juan Pierre yelled, "Camp MVP," when Bigbie entered the clubhouse, and the non-roster invitee, who is batting .394 in his quest to win a roster spot after several injury-plagued seasons, was congratulated by Loney and outfielder Kemp.
Even though Bigbie's push could keep one or both of those highly regarded young players off the opening-day roster.
Loney, who is batting .444 after hitting .380 in triple A last season, said that the mere thought of getting sent back to the minors "is like a kick in the stomach."
If the Dodgers keep only 11 pitchers -- which Little said is a 90% possibility -- Loney should make the team.
The same can't be said for Kemp, despite the fact that he is the top power-hitting prospect in the organization and the only healthy right-handed-hitting outfielder in camp. His name has barely registered when a potential replacement for injured Jason Repko is discussed.
"I know I'm ready to help the team in a lot of ways," Kemp said. "I can play defense, steal a base and get some hits. But I can't control what they do. If I go to triple A, I'll focus on playing well there."
Bigbie's contract stipulates that the Dodgers must inform him Wednesday whether he will be on the roster.
Stuck in the 80s
Schmidt, who signed a three-year, $47-million deal during the off-season, gave up one run in five innings to shrink his earned-run average to 5.06. But only three of his 95 pitches touched 90 mph.
"That's been his pattern in previous springs, according to the people around here who knew him when he pitched for San Francisco," Little said. "He'll be fine."
Those people would include General Manager Ned Colletti and head trainer Stan Conte.
"There was definite improvement," Schmidt said. "I still had some lapses. I'm usually a guy out there experimenting in the spring. But I'm definitely better."
Taking the fifth
Tomko did not pitch well in his last start and has a 5.14 ERA, but he was the front-runner all along for the No. 5 spot in the rotation and none of the other contenders pitched well enough to take the role from him.
His first start is tentatively scheduled for April 11 at home against the Colorado Rockies, and he would be available in relief the first week of the season.
The plan could change if Brad Penny's balky shoulder gives him problems in today's start against the New York Mets or his last spring start against the Angels on Saturday.
Failure to communicate
Upon further review, Kuo provided more accurate information than his manager. The left-hander contradicted Little's contention of a day earlier that Kuo did not tell trainers his left shoulder hurt after a start March 16 against the Boston Red Sox.
Lamenting that young players often are hesitant to disclose injuries when they are battling to make the team, Little had said Kuo hadn't mentioned the pain until after his next start, March 21 against the New York Mets.
"After the Boston game, I told the trainers that it hurt a little bit," Kuo said. "But it felt fine leading up to the Mets' game, so I pitched."
After talking with trainers, Little said Kuo was correct.
Kuo will begin the season on the disabled list and won't throw at all for two to three weeks.
Wait and see
Little said decisions on the last two roster spots for position players will wait until the Freeway Series because of the uncertainty surrounding shortstop Rafael Furcal's sprained ankle. Furcal said he should be available opening day.... Tomko, an accomplished artist, has completed a charcoal drawing of Jackie Robinson sliding into a base. Reprints will be distributed to fans on Jackie Robinson Day, April 15 at Dodger Stadium. The event will commemorate the 60th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier in the major leagues.... Players' union chief Donald Fehr held his annual closed-door meeting with the team.