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Some Dodgers starting pitchers open camp wondering where they fit

Club has eight men vying for five spots in the rotation, with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke guaranteed two of those. The others? It's wait and see.

February 12, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez, Los Angeles Times
  • Chris Capuano is one of six pitchers vying for the final three spots in the starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are guaranteed the other two.
Chris Capuano is one of six pitchers vying for the final three spots in the… (Gus Ruelas / Associated…)

PHOENIX — Clayton Kershaw spoke about his contract situation with the Dodgers on Tuesday, but there wasn't much to reveal.

Negotiations on a possible long-term deal haven't started, he said, adding that he doesn't intend to bargain once the regular season begins.

"I don't think I'm going to let it go into the season," said Kershaw, who will be eligible for free agency after the 2014 season.

Kershaw's long-term future was one of several uncertainties about the rotation that were discussed on the first day pitchers and catchers reported to the Dodgers' spring-training facility. The others were mostly about which of the Dodgers' eight well-paid starters will make the five-man rotation.

Six are former All-Stars: Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly. The others are Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, whom the Dodgers recently spent $62 million to sign, and Aaron Harang, who has started 293 games over 11 seasons.

There's a clause in Ryu's contract that forbids the Dodgers from sending him to the minor leagues without his written consent. Every other pitcher in that group has accrued enough major league service time to decline a minor league assignment.

That means, barring a trade, and if none of the eight land on the disabled list, some of career-long starters will be moved into relief roles.

Kershaw is guaranteed a place in the rotation, provided he is healthy. So is Greinke, who signed a six-year, $147-million contract in the off-season.

Manager Don Mattingly said the Dodgers have an idea of what their rotation will look like, but refused to offer details. Mattingly did hint that Beckett would be one of the starters, singling him out as a pitcher who would likely have problems adjusting to the bullpen.

Ryu also appears to be part of the rotation plans. Asked whether Ryu could start the season as a reliever, General Manager Ned Colletti replied, "I wouldn't say that's what we're looking at right now."

That leaves Billingsley, Capuano, Harang and Lilly competing for the final spot.

Billingsley, 28, is also the youngest and the only one with two more guaranteed years on his contract. Those factors figure to give him an edge.

But there's no reason for the Dodgers to select their rotation at this point, particularly with Billingsley and Lilly returning from significant injuries. Billingsley's 2012 season was cut short by a partially torn tendon in his elbow, and Lilly's by a minor shoulder operation. Both pitchers say they are healthy.

Billingsley appeared uncomfortable about the perceived uncertainty over his rotation status, downplaying the competition.

"I'm just going to go out there and pitch like I've always done," he said.

Asked whether he would be open to moving into the bullpen, he said, "I'm not thinking about that right now. Right now, it's get the first bullpen out of the way, get my first outing out of the way. Just go from there."

Beckett said that if the Dodgers wanted him to pitch in relief, he wouldn't fight the move.

"That's not really my call," he said.

Lilly said he preferred to start, but would accept a relief role. In fact, Lilly said he would prefer to remain with the Dodgers as a reliever than to start elsewhere.

Capuano sounded less certain.

"That's a great question," Capuano said. "I want to be a part of this organization and what's going on here. Most importantly, I want to win and want to be a part of something special. I would certainly have to think about it."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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