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Schmidt expected to bolster rotation

Schmidt expected to bolster rotation

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Relationships are swell, but Jason Schmidt didn't sign with the Dodgers just because he liked Ned Colletti from their days together with the Giants.

Another half-dozen teams were also throwing real money his way, but what helped seal the deal for Schmidt was that he liked what he saw from Colletti after he left the Giants to take over the Dodgers.

"A year ago, after Ned got the job, I watched the moves he was making and how active he was in the market and that was real appealing to me," said Schmidt, who became a free agent after last season.

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"You saw what he did. There were guys out there and he didn't go after one of them, he went after all of them. That's pretty cool. Then you saw at the trading deadline, he gets [Greg] Maddux and makes a handful of other deals to give his club the best chance to win. They were going through a transition, but they kept winning. That makes this exciting."

Even though Colletti already had a pair of pitchers who tied for the league lead in victories last year -- Derek Lowe and Brad Penny with 16 each -- he was determined to upgrade the starting rotation and had Schmidt at the top of the shopping list, later adding left-hander Randy Wolf.

"I've seen him work big games and he knows how to pitch," Colletti said of Schmidt. "He's got a great feel for what he can do. He fits the top half of our rotation -- and notice I said top half. He'll make other pitchers better in the roles they're in. Last year our staff started to fray at the end of the year. You get five innings out of a starter, the bullpen pays a price for that. He'll give you 200 innings."

The price for that was $47 million for three years, making Schmidt the highest-paid Dodgers pitcher in history based on annual average salary. Schmidt said Colletti made clear his interest from the very start, successfully employing the same strategy with Schmidt that worked to land Rafael Furcal a year earlier: overpaying based on annual average salary but reducing risk by shortening the term.

Financially for the Dodgers, that made Schmidt more appealing than Barry Zito, who signed for seven years and $126 million to replace Schmidt in San Francisco.

Dodgers starters averaged less than six innings an outing last season and Schmidt is expected to improve that. He had three complete games last year, one more than the entire Dodgers rotation.

The overall resume at age 34 is impressive. He has 11 Major League seasons, double-digits wins in six consecutive seasons, and is 30 games above .500 over the last four.

Skeptics point out that Schmidt hasn't been as dominant the last two seasons (23-16, 3.95 ERA) as he was in 2003-04 (35-12, 2.79), citing elbow surgery following the 2003 season as one possible explanation.

Schmidt said all systems are go with his arm and, with former Giants trainer Stan Conte in the fold, the club knows Schmidt's medical condition well. They also know he's a proven winner, a workhorse and was a Cy Young runner-up to Eric Gagne in 2003. Schmidt is imposing at 6-foot-5 with a fastball still in the mid-90s. Just don't tell him he's the Dodgers' new ace.

"That's not the way I approach it. Anybody can be an ace. When you're on a win streak, you're the ace," said Schmidt. "I try to be like every guy in here. A pitcher is a pitcher. I'd have the same expectations of myself whether I was first, second, third or whatever."

Colletti isn't calling Schmidt the staff ace, nor does manager Grady Little, who is always reluctant to rank his starters and hesitant to name his Opening Day pitcher.

"I feel we have more than one [ace]," Little said when asked to define the term. "It's a guy the opposition doesn't look forward to facing. It's a guy where, if we're in a tailspin, this guy comes to the mound and we look forward to having him pitch and they look forward to not seeing him."

An ace, said Lowe, is someone like his former teammate and a former Dodger, Pedro Martinez.

"In my opinion, there are very few true aces," said Lowe, the Dodgers' Opening Day starter the last two years. "I saw Pedro in his prime and that, to me, is a true ace. A phenomenal dominator of a game. People throw around the word ... that this guy's an ace or that guy's an ace. In reality, there's nothing wrong with not having one.

"Another way to look at it, if you go into Spring Training and you can pretty well predict what you're going to get in terms of wins, innings, ERA, year in and year out, that's an ace. That was Pedro, that was Maddux, Randy Johnson. Nowadays, it's Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, Chris Carpenter.

"Our strength here, now with Schmidt, is that we're going to have five good starters, so when any team looks at the series matchups, we're throwing three or four solid pitchers no matter how the rotation falls, and that should keep the losing streaks to a minimum."

The last time the Dodgers had four starters win 10 or more games in the same season was 1997 -- Hideo Nomo, Chan Ho Park, Ismael Valdes and Ramon Martinez. The last time the Dodgers had five starters win 10 or more games in the same season was 1978 -- Burt Hooton, Tommy John, Don Sutton, Doug Rau and Rick Rhoden.

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

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