LOS ANGELES -- Takashi Saito, Eric Gagne's successor as closer, has told the Dodgers that he expects to be 100 percent for next week's opening of Spring Training, despite cutting short his offseason throwing program because of what club officials described as a "slight" calf strain.
Saito, who turns 37 on Wednesday and signed a $1 million contract to return from Japan in '06, participated in the club's Dodger Caravan on Wednesday.
The right-hander was injury-free last season, and he pitched in 72 games for the Dodgers, setting a franchise rookie record with 24 saves.
Who closes for the Dodgers if Saito can't?
Although the club is loaded with starters, the only pitchers on the roster with experience closing are Derek Lowe, who is locked in the starting rotation, and Yhency Brazoban, who is recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and won't be ready to pitch until midseason. No one else has more than five career saves. The short list of non-roster invitees includes Rudy Seanez, who has 11 saves in 15 seasons.
Should Saito falter for any reason, the job would likely go first to setup man Jonathan Broxton, who is being groomed to succeed Saito. Or, with the staff's surplus of starting pitchers, the club could ask Lowe (who has 85 career saves) or even Brad Penny (who has none) to consider relief. The intimidating 100-mph fastballs Penny fired during his start in the 2006 All-Star Game has led many scouts to suggest that Penny could become a dominant closer.
Meanwhile, left-handed reliever Joe Beimel and the club are headed for a salary-arbitration hearing on Friday, despite a relatively small difference at stake. Beimel is seeking a salary of $1.25 million and the Dodgers have submitted a figure of $912,500. He received $425,000 in '06. Barring a settlement, the hearing will take place in Phoenix.
Beimel had a 2.96 ERA in 62 games as one of the better southpaw relievers in the National League last year, then injured his pitching hand in a bar, lied about it to team officials and missed the NL Division Series playoffs. The club is expected to use Beimel's injury in its case before the arbitration panel, which can assign whatever weight to the issue it deems appropriate.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.