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Shaky Claudio Vargas may win Dodgers' rotation spot

Candidates haven't been too impressive as they fight for job as No. 5 starter.

March 21, 2009|Dylan Hernandez

SURPRISE, ARIZ. — Claudio Vargas emerged on Friday night as the leading candidate to be the Dodgers' fifth starter.

If only by default.

Vargas gave up a run and three hits over three innings against the Kansas City Royals, offering a shaky performance that was promising mainly because he wasn't hit quite as hard as his main competitor for the final spot in the rotation.

Former All-Star Eric Milton was also charged with an earned run in three innings. But the 33-year-old left-hander, who is in camp on a minor-league deal and hasn't pitched in the majors in 22 months, made a throwing error that opened the floodgates on a six-run fifth inning for the Royals and served up a towering two-run home run to Chris Lubanski in the sixth.

Vargas lowered his spring earned-run average to 6.28; Milton dropped his to 4.91.

Manager Joe Torre didn't sound particularly optimistic when talking about the vacancy in the rotation in the hour leading up to the rare Cactus League night game.

"It's not like we're trying to drag it out," Torre said of the decision.

Also being considered are left-handers Eric Stults (12.00 earned-run average this spring) and Shawn Estes (9.00).

Jason Schmidt, who has been limited to six starts over the last two years because of shoulder trouble, isn't expected to be ready by the start of the season. Schmidt is scheduled to throw a bullpen session today.

Vargas hit a batter, gave up back-to-back doubles to start the third inning and got his final out on a fly ball that nearly cleared the left-field fence, but said he felt good about the progress he was making. If anything, his outing on Friday marked a clear improvement from his previous two, when he gave up a combined seven runs in 5 1/3 innings.

"The first two innings, I pounded the bottom of the strike zone," said Vargas, crediting the work he has done with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt to improve his delivery.

Manny back on Monday?

Manny Ramirez will probably return to game action as a designated hitter when the Dodgers visit the Angels in Tempe on Monday, Torre said.

Ramirez has been limited to two games this spring because of tightness in his hamstring, but he ran on Friday without any problems, according to Torre.

"Change the lineup!" Ramirez shouted in the clubhouse upon seeing a couple of reporters examining the Dodgers' Friday travel roster.

Later, a smiling Ramirez said aloud as he walked across the locker room, "I'm going to play cricket. They've got better trainers."

Short hops

The Dodgers are expected to name the newest member of their television broadcasting team soon. The six finalists for are Tom Hart of CBS Sports, Joe Block of the New Orleans Hornets radio network, Ben Wagner of the New York Mets' triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, Eric Collins of ESPN, and Josh Suchon and Ken Levine of "Dodger Talk." . . . Muhammad Ali and Wayne Gretzky were in the stands at Surprise Stadium.

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