Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — Eric Gagne's longshot bid to return to the major leagues with the Dodgers just got longer.
The former ace reliever was sent to the minors Monday mainly because he needs more work than would be available with the big league club, General Manager Ned Colletti said.
"For the most part he needs to pitch, he needs to build up his arm strength especially for his off-speed stuff," Colletti said of Gagne, 34, a former Cy Young Award winner with the Dodgers who later was identified in the Mitchell Report as a user of performance-enhancing drugs. "We're not going to have the innings on the big league side to do that."
Colletti said he joined Manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt to deliver the news to Gagne, who was trying to get back into the big leagues after spending last year playing for a Canadian team. But the right-hander struggled in his first three spring appearances, giving up six earned runs in 2 2/3 innings.
Gagne left the Dodgers' spring-training complex in Camelback Ranch on Monday morning shortly before the announcement. Asked how he reacted to the decision, Colletti said, "He's a veteran who knows where he is. I think he just wanted to make sure we still had an interest in him, which we do. So I think he took it fine."
Colletti said Gagne's invitation to major league camp was "one of those nothing-ventured, nothing-gained-type situations, [to] give him an opportunity to see what he could do."
Gagne won the Cy Young Award with the Dodgers in 2003, when he converted 55 of 55 save opportunities.
Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario of Venezuela still has not reported to camp because of visa problems and Colletti and Torre each said it's all but certain he won't be on the opening-day roster.
"Until he gets here there's no way to tell" about the right-hander's pitching condition, "but it's obviously going to be a lot easier making the team if he's in Glendale than if he's in Caracas," Colletti said.
Belisario's agent, Paul Kinzer, said he had no update on Belisario's situation. Kinzer previously said that an unresolved drunk-driving charge against Belisario had complicated matters for the 27-year-old pitcher, who was workhorse in his rookie year in 2009 with 69 appearances. Belisario pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge.
Torre, who just returned from a goodwill series in Taiwan, said, "I thought the chances of him getting here while we were gone were pretty good but evidently it didn't take place."
Making the opening-day roster at this point "would be a long shot," Torre said. "I don't know how much throwing he's been doing."
Torre was back managing in the Dodgers' 4-0 win over the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium but Manny Ramirez, James Loney and most of the other Dodgers who made the trip to Taiwan were given the day off Monday after arriving in Phoenix on Sunday night. The entire team has a day off Tuesday.
"We certainly had a great response from the fans over there," Torre said. "They're very passionate and all around town it was pretty evident that they knew the Dodgers were there."
Pitchers Brent Leach and Travis Schlichting, and infielder Ivan DeJesus — all on the Dodgers 40-man roster — were optioned to minor league camp, and infielder Argenis Reyes was reassigned to the minors.