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Dodgers' Don Mattingly has relief in sight

Manager knows who will be the team's closer and who will be the set-up guys, a departure from the uncertainty of previous seasons.

March 24, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez, Los Angeles Times
  • Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly has the back end of the bullpen mostly figured out heading into the season.
Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly has the back end of the bullpen mostly figured… (Paul Sancya / Associated…)

PHOENIX — If the Dodgers have a lead heading into the ninth inning on opening day, Manager Don Mattingly knows to whom he will turn: Brandon League.

Mattingly also knows Kenley Jansen or Ronald Belisario will pitch the seventh inning if starter Clayton Kershaw doesn't make it that far. The hard-throwing reliever who doesn't pitch the seventh will pitch the eighth.

The relative certainty is something new for Mattingly.

In his first year as manager, in 2011, his closer on opening day, Jonathan Broxton, was coming back from a miserable season in which he lost his job. The other back-end options, Hong-Chih Kuo and Vicente Padilla, had disconcerting medical histories. Broxton's and Padilla's season ended in May. Kuo pitched in his last major league game that season.

Last year, Mattingly started the season with inexperienced Javy Guerra and Jansen as his back-end relievers.

"You feel a little more settled this year," Mattingly said.

Jansen hasn't given up a run this spring and Belisario has an earned-run average of 2.70. League's ERA is 10.13, but exclude his worst game of the spring and that figure drops to 3.60.

As much stability as there appears to be, the bullpen has been a source of great deliberation as the Dodgers try to figure out their opening-day roster.

In addition to League, Jansen and Belisario, two others are believed to be locks to make the team: Matt Guerrier and J.P. Howell, who have guaranteed major league contracts.

Because Mattingly wants a spare outfielder who could serve as a late-inning defensive replacement for Carl Crawford, who is recovering from elbow surgery and whose arm isn't expected to be at full strength by opening day, the Dodgers don't plan to have more than 12 pitchers on their roster. That leaves two open spots in the bullpen.

In Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly, the Dodgers have three starting pitchers who are expected to be switched to relief roles. All three have guaranteed contracts and can't be sent to the minor leagues without their consent.

Unless the Dodgers can trade more than one or more of them, they will have to make some tough decisions or manipulate their roster.

Lilly is recovering from shoulder surgery and threw only 59 pitches in his last game, making him a likely candidate to land on the disabled list. The Dodgers could manufacture another roster spot if starter Chad Billingsley, who has a bruised finger, starts the season on the disabled list.

If Capuano and Harang are moved into the bullpen, the chances of non-roster pitchers Kevin Gregg and Peter Moylan would all but disappear. The lack of roster spots already prompted the Sunday release of Mark Lowe, another experienced non-roster reliever.

"There just wasn't a spot," Mattingly said.

Short hops

Adrian Gonzalez was out of the lineup Sunday, as he was hit by a pitch on his right forearm the previous night. The offending Chicago White Sox pitcher was his former teammate on the San Diego Padres, Jake Peavy. The injury isn't considered serious and Gonzalez could return Monday. … Mobile phone reception in Dodger Stadium should be significantly improved by the second homestand of the regular season, team President Stan Kasten said. A new stadium-wide WiFi system is expected to be installed by June. "By then, we will have the most elaborate and most extensive WiFi network anywhere in baseball," Kasten said.

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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