Reporting from Phoenix — Come April 5, Vicente Padilla will have made as many opening-day starts as Sandy Koufax: one.
Manager Joe Torre said his decision to bestow Padilla with the honor of starting the season opener in Pittsburgh essentially was an arbitrary one, pointing to the Dodgers' lack of a bona fide ace.
"We just had to pick somebody," Torre said. "He was the one. Am I going to say he's better than the other guys? I can't do that."
Clayton Kershaw will start the second game of the season, which is April 7, lining him up to pitch in the Dodgers' home opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 13. Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda will follow Kershaw in the rotation, in that order.
The yet-to-be-decided fifth starter will make his season debut April 10 or 11 at the Florida Marlins.
"I guess the fact that you don't have a No. 1 … you just have to line them up some way, and we decided to do it that way," Torre said.
The Dodgers made no effort to sign John Lackey, the top free-agent pitcher during the off-season, and let Randy Wolf go onto the open market without offering him salary arbitration.
While the club was in talks at the trade deadline in recent seasons about potential deals for CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, it refused to part with the prospects being demanded in return.
Owner Frank McCourt recently said that he did not think it would have been wise to deal the likes of Kershaw, Billingsley or Matt Kemp to acquire Sabathia. The Dodgers, however, did not pursue the 2007 Cy Young Award winner after the 2008 season when Sabathia was a free agent, and he eventually signed a $161-million contract with the Yankees.
Torre did not offer much insight into how he chose his opening-day starter, other than to say he thought that Billingsley would benefit from not pitching in the first game.
"Billingsley, we certainly want him to get his legs under him and I don't want him to think that one start is more important than another one," Torre said of the pitcher who had his confidence shaken in the second half of last season.
Even if Padilla was a default selection, it clearly means something to him.
"I think that anyone who plays at this level would like to pitch the first game of the season," Padilla said. "This is huge for me."
Particularly because of where he was last summer.
He was considered such a bad teammate in Texas that the Rangers released him — even though they were in the middle of a pennant race and in need of pitching.
Since signing with the Dodgers in August, Padilla has been a model citizen, and he pitched two spectacular games in the team's run to the National League Championship Series. He was re-signed to a one-year, $5.025 million deal.
But Padilla, who in the off-season was accidentally shot in the leg by his bodyguard at a shooting range in his native Nicaragua, said he had no idea he was being considered for the opening-day role.
"I came to camp thinking I would be the third or fourth starter," he said.
Padilla, who said he has experienced mild stiffness in his forearm, has given up five runs and 11 hits in 10 innings this spring.