Dodgertown opens for batterymates

Dodgertown opens doors for batterymates

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Dominicans Yhency Brazoban and Franquelis Osoria were the only expected Dodgers missing Wednesday, when pitchers and catchers reported to Dodgertown for the start of Spring Training.

General manager Ned Colletti said both players had visa problems but were expected in camp later in the week. Both pitched in winter ball and are close to game shape.

Meanwhile, new manager Grady Little, in his first day in charge of the club, indicated that he's narrowed down the candidates for Opening Day starter to two -- Derek Lowe and Brad Penny -- and he would "determine that pretty soon."

Little said he was comforted last week watching Eric Gagne put in his first Dodgers bullpen session since last June's elbow surgery.

"I'm confident with what I saw," said Little. "With his mentality, every day we may have to hold him back from rushing. We're not saving games March 6th."

Little added that he was taken by the historic nature of Dodgertown.

"Walking through the halls and seeing all the photos, you know all that started on these grounds, and here we are trying to make some more history for somebody to see 20 and 30 and 40 years from now."

Prior to this week, Colletti said he had spent one other day in Vero Beach and about two minutes at Dodgertown.

"I was with Brian Sabean and we were in Atlanta, coming down for Games 6 and 7 of the World Series," Colletti recalled. "We (San Francisco) had lost to the Marlins in the first round of the playoffs and we got to Atlanta and we really didn't feel like watching other teams any more.

"Ron Perranoski, our Minor League pitching coordinator (and former Dodger pitcher and coach), lived in Vero and we decided to come down and see him. Perry told me where Dodgertown was and I drove past and looked around. That was it until now."

Colletti left quickly nine years ago, but he'll leave his mark this time. He has dramatically rebuilt the roster in his three months in charge.

The core of the starting rotation -- Lowe, Penny and Odalis Perez -- returns. Jeff Weaver is now with the Angels, and Colletti hopes free agent Brett Tomko and Jae Seo, acquired in a trade with the Mets, pick up the slack.

Colletti is not asking for any major surprises from his players.

"What I would most like to see is the players have the seasons they are capable of," he said. "If you take every starting pitcher that people say are penciled into the rotation, they're all capable of 180 to 210 innings. If we get that, we'll be in decent shape. I've learned to never expect or require performances that exceed the player's ability. If they just equal their ability, that's what you want."

Last spring, the focal point was Penny, whose career was in limbo because of a serious arm nerve injury suffered the previous season. After an extended spring, Penny and his 95 mph fastball returned, and he signed a three-year contract extension last summer. Now, he's a strong candidate to be the No. 1 starter.

The spotlight this spring will be on Perez. He went 7-8 last year with a 4.56 ERA and spent one-third of the season on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and a strained oblique muscle. Attempts to trade him were thwarted because of the $20.25 million he is owed over the next two seasons.

Another priority will be replacing Weaver's 224 innings. That's why Colletti signed Tomko and traded for Seo, the latter expected to dislodge D.J. Houlton as the fifth starter.

The bullpen will be another key area. Gagne has been throwing hard and with no discomfort, but has yet to face hitters. Should he go down again, Colletti has insurance in Danys Baez, who at $4 million is a much pricier setup man than Duaner Sanchez, who was dealt to the Mets in the Seo deal.

Brazoban returns after an erratic 2005 season. The versatile Lance Carter seems to have the inside shot at Giovanni Carrara's role, while Jonathan Broxton is a closer in the making. Kelly Wunsch will try to reclaim his lefty setup job by showing he is healed from ankle and hip operations. Hong-Chih Kuo could be his stiffest competition.

"There's a lot of things you want and one is competition," said Colletti. "Teams that are set don't have people pushing for playing time. I believe in competition."

Although former top pitching prospect Edwin Jackson was traded to Tampa Bay to get Baez, the Dodgers this spring will get their first look at his heir apparent, Chad Billingsley. Colletti loaded the roster with veteran arms so he won't need to rush Billingsley, who is ticketed for Triple-A.

Things have changed behind the plate from a year ago, when Jason Phillips was obtained from the Mets to fill the hole created by the trade of Paul Lo Duca. Even before that trade, the presence of David Ross and Paul Bako left Dioner Navarro with a minimal chance to even make the club.

A year later, Navarro is the incumbent -- if not a lock -- to be the Opening Day starter, with Russell Martin on his heels. Colletti made a run at veteran Bengie Molina but fell short because he would not give a multiyear deal that would block the path of the kids.

Sandy Alomar Jr. will be the veteran backup, with Pat Borders serving as insurance if something happens to Alomar.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.