Dodgers ready to take next step

Dodgers begin journey to take next step

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Pitchers and catchers reported to Dodgertown on Friday, with the first official workout on Saturday.

A year ago, general manager Ned Colletti and field manager Grady Little were reporting to Dodgertown for the first time. Colletti had inherited a staff he didn't know, spent a furious three months overhauling the roster and the club went on to post a 17-win improvement under the daily direction of Little.

The Dodgers did pretty well in that shakedown cruise first season, tying for the division lead and making the playoffs. But not well enough, and the players don't sound as if they were satisfied with a bitter taste of October ball.

"I'm still mad about it," catcher Russell Martin said, still stinging from getting swept by the Mets in the Division Series. "I can't wait to play the Mets. We owe them one."

On paper, if the Dodgers' roster is still flawed, it appears less flawed than a year ago. Colletti was unable to land the impact bat everyone believes the batting order needs, but having offered $96 million to Alfonso Soriano, he can't be accused of not trying.

He shifted into Plan B and loaded up on starting pitching by signing Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf. They join Derek Lowe and Brad Penny to form probably the strongest first four of any rotation in the league and the line of contenders for the fifth spot is deep -- Chad Billingsley, Hong-Chih Kuo, Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson to name a few.

The extra arms position the Dodgers to deal for a hitter if one becomes available, or creates bullpen depth if one doesn't. As long as closer Takashi Saito's recent calf injury really is minor, the club is confident the bullpen is sounder and deeper than last year's, which was relying on the injured Eric Gagne and completely turned over by the All-Star break.

Martin reports for the first time as the undisputed starter coming off an impressive rookie season in which he took the job from Dioner Navarro. This year, he'll be backed up by Mike Lieberthal, the former Phillies starter whose body no longer can withstand the everyday punishment, but who should be effective enough when fresh to provide Martin with a little more rest than he had last year.

The lineup that scored runs despite a lack of power lost J.D. Drew's 100 RBIs, but the outfield was rebuilt with the signings of Juan Pierre and Luis Gonzalez.

Injuries were a huge issue heading into Spring Training a year ago. The club seems healthier this time around, as long as Jeff Kent really is recovered from the injuries that nagged him all season and turned him into a spray hitter.

Of the players recovering from medical issues, only reliever Yhency Brazoban (Tommy John elbow reconstruction) is not expected to compete for a job. Andre Ethier (shoulder), Marlon Anderson (elbow), Lieberthal (stomach muscle), Joe Beimel (cut hand), Jason Repko (foot) and Andy LaRoche (shoulder) are said to be good to go.

Between the big-name veterans and the youngsters who made an impact last year, most roles are already decided. There will be the annual spring competition for the fifth starter role and the domino effect it will have on the bullpen.

Other intriguing issues to be resolved in Florida include whether Rafael Furcal is followed by Pierre atop the batting order or the other way around, whether Wilson Betemit will retain the everyday third-base job, finding playing time for James Loney with Nomar Garciaparra anchored at first base and determining if Matt Kemp and LaRoche are ready enough to justify a Major League roster spot.

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