VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The battle for the No. 5 slot in the Dodgers' rotation is reaching the boiling point. Meanwhile, No. 4 remained frigid. Hong-Chih Kuo bolstered his claim for a starting job with two hitless innings in Sunday's 10-9 victory over Washington, but only after Brad Penny teetered through another frustrating stint. Frustrating for him, that is; few of the nine well-placed hits off him in three innings, for four runs, were smoked. But not for his manager, who is placing enduring faith in the 28-year-old veteran's springtime M.O.
"It was a typical Spring Training game for him," Grady Little said. "You have to realize that last year, too, he went through the same thing in the spring. Then he got off to a great start." Penny spent the second half of 2006 looking for the touch that had boosted him to a 9-3 record through June. He's still looking, his first three Grapefruit League turns having done nothing to erase the memory of his 5.93 ERA across the final three months. In seven innings, the right-hander has been reeled for 17 hits and 10 runs and has shown a glaring inability to put away hitters. He continued to collect a veteran's mulligan Sunday, when 11 of the last 16 batters to face him reached base, including two on walks. "He used all his pitches and had command of them," Little said. "And that's what we're looking for, to make sure he's healthy. With some guys, we don't want to look at stats in Spring Training." Kuo's zeros came the day after Mark Hendrickson allowed one hit in three innings against Florida, and the day before another rotation candidate, Brett Tomko, starts against the Orioles in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "There's some serious competition there. We won't lose, whatever decision we make," Little said. Warmup act: Larry Bigbie prepared for a reunion with the Orioles -- the team that made him a No. 1 draft pick in 1999 and with which he spent the first 4 1/2 seasons of his career -- by lining the RBI single that capped a three-run ninth and gave the Dodgers the win. A 1-for-3 left Bigbie with a .385 spring average and 10 RBIs, best on the team. But even with injuries to Marlon Anderson (elbow) and Jason Repko (groin), the non-roster outfielder isn't trying to overthink his prospects. "You have to take it day-by-day and just be prepared for whatever happens," Bigbie said, "When you go into a new clubhouse, it is good to get off to a good start."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.