From Phoenix — Just when I thought I could not summon the words to describe the Dodgers' pitching rotation, Joe Torre found two.
On Thursday afternoon, he boldly uttered them. By Friday, Dodgers fans were buzzing about them. On Saturday, I just had to ask him.
"Yes" Torre said.
"C'mon," I said.
Padilla has been selected as the Dodgers' opening-day starter, and, I know, opening day is only one game, only one of 162, an April gimmick forgotten by May.
But opening day is also traditionally the place where starting rotations pitch their tent, plant their flag, make the first statement about their hopes for the coming season.
And it is Vicente Padilla? A two-month Dodger with a career 98-85 record and a 4.46 earned-run average last season?
Two words. One meaning. The team that ended last season in desperate need of an ace is still looking. Five months of supposed searching have uncovered nothing. Inertia has led to a rotation that, well, just hasn't rotated.
The last time we saw Padilla, he was giving up six runs in three innings in the final game of the Philadelphia Phillies' 10-4 victory in the clinching Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.
His presence as the starter in that important game was cited as final, damning proof that the Dodgers cannot jump their two-year-tall hurdle to the World Series without an ace starting pitcher. And yet, here he comes again, from last pitch of 2009 to first pitch of 2010, a nice No. 3 starter again being asked to pose as the Man.
"I guess the fact that we don't have a No. 1 . . . you just have to line them up some way, and we decided to do it that way," Manager Torre told reporters after Thursday's announcement, and doesn't that say it all?
There is some thought that Torre is subtly tweaking Dodgers ownership for not spending the money or players to acquire a top starting pitcher over the winter. Undoubtedly, he believes that this rotation is being allowed to drift without an anchor.
In both cases, the news isn't good for a team that will spend the summer fighting its way through teams with aces like Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum and the combo of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.
"I don't look at it like not having an ace, I look at it like we have four quality guys," Torre said. "That's not all bad."
He sounds strangely like the football coach that claims he has two starting quarterbacks while actually confessing that he has none. The Dodgers indeed have the kind of starting pitching depth that most teams would covet. But as they've learned in consecutive Octobers, champions ride through the postseason on the back of one, and I can almost guarantee that Padilla will not be that one.
You would hope that the Dodgers would feel that Clayton Kershaw was ready to be the ace. After all, Torre gave him the ball at Dodger Stadium to start last year's NLCS. Why not give him the ball now?
Torre said it wasn't his age (22) or his 9.45 ERA in the NLCS, but that they wanted to give him something even more special than opening day.
"We wanted to schedule it so he can start the home opener," Torre said. "I like the home opener a lot more than the season opener, there's a lot more flavor to it."
Perhaps, but what if the Dodgers return to Dodger Stadium with a losing record after their first six road games? The banners aren't as colorful. The band doesn't sound as loud.
If the Dodgers truly believe Kershaw can grow into their ace this season, they would have given him the ball April 5 in Pittsburgh. The same with Hiroki Kuroda or Chad Billingsley. All three pitchers have performed well this spring, and Padilla has a 6.28 ERA in four starts.
Asked Saturday whether his team had enough starting pitching, General Manager Ned Colletti said the strangest thing. He said nothing. For the longest time, he stared out at an empty Camelback Ranch field after the Dodgers had climbed aboard Charlie Haeger's knuckleball for a 3-1 exhibition victory over the Seattle Mariners. (Yes, the Dodgers' fifth starter could be a junk-ball pitcher, don't get me started.)
When Colletti finally spoke, he said, "Well, there's not a lot of teams that have five quality starters, and it's not unreasonable to expect improvement from our guys."
He paused .
"But we're always open to change. The good thing about the opening-day roster is that it's only the opening-day roster."
So he agrees, and Torre agrees, and while neither one will say it, the message seems clear. The winter's frozen funds have left them with a rotation bereft of cash crop. It has left them with the words "opening day" and "Vicente Padilla" in the same sentence.