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Angels-Dodgers Freeway Series meaningful for players on bubble

Games between the teams Monday at Dodger Stadium and Tuesday at Angel Stadium could determine final roster cuts.

March 27, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Dodgers catcher Hector Gimenez reacts after the third out in the eighth inning of an exhibition game against the White Sox last month.
Dodgers catcher Hector Gimenez reacts after the third out in the eighth… (Harry How / Getty Images )

Officially, the two-game Freeway Series between the Dodgers and Angels, which begins Monday night at Dodger Stadium, is an exhibition series. So officially, the games don't count.

Don't believe it. Because for a handful of players still fighting for roster spots on both teams, the next two days could be the most important ones of their seasons, if not their careers.

On the Dodgers' side, backup catcher Dioner Navarro will start the season on the disabled list, opening a roster spot for Hector Gimenez or A.J. Ellis, and Casey Blake's back injury has forced an infield shift that sent Juan Uribe to third base. That improves Ivan De Jesus Jr.'s chances to make the team at second base and leaves Aaron Miles and Juan Castro to compete for the utility infield spot.

"There are still spots," Manager Don Mattingly said. "There are still spots in the pen. The left-field platoon is kind of up in the air."

The Dodgers appear to have settled on an 11-man pitching staff, in part because the fifth spot in their rotation won't come up until April 12.

In addition to the seven regular starters -- the Dodgers plan to mix and match in left field -- Jamey Carroll, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Marcus Thames seem locks to make the team. Outfielders Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul probably will make the cut as well unless Mattingly goes with three catchers.

In the bullpen, Mike MacDougal, Lance Cormier and Scott Elbert are the candidates for the final two places.

The Angels will open the season with first baseman Kendrys Morales, pitcher Joel Pineiro, reliever Scott Downs and reserve outfielder Reggie Willits on the disabled list, allowing them to delay tough decisions on infielder Brandon Wood, relievers Rich Thompson and Jason Bulger and catcher Hank Conger.

"We're sorting it out," Manager Mike Scioscia said.

With two days off next week, the Angels won't need a fifth starter until about April 10, so Scioscia said Sunday they will open with a four-man rotation -- Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir -- and seven relievers.

When Pineiro and Downs return, the Angels will trim one or two relievers, which could leave Thompson or Bulger exposed. Both right-handers are out of options and have to clear waivers before being sent to the minor leagues.

It appears Mark Trumbo will begin the season at first base in place of Morales, but Morales' slow recovery from a broken leg also opens a spot for Wood who, too, is out of options. With Willits sidelined, Chris Pettit will probably make the team as a fifth outfielder behind Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos and Bobby Abreu.

Catchers Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson are locks, but since the Angels are going with four starting pitchers, they could keep an extra position player temporarily, possibly Conger.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Times staff writers Mike DiGiovanna and Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report.

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