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Dodgers blessed with pitching surplus

Dodgers blessed with pitching surplus, for now

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Suggest to Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti that it seems he has too much pitching and he looks back through you as if he's been charged with having too much money or too much fun.

As the country lyrics go, "Ain't no such thing."

"Whatever is perceived as a surplus," Colletti said, "could go away one pitch later."

If Colletti doesn't have too much pitching, he has too many pitchers to fit on one staff when rosters are reduced to 25 by Opening Day. And this leads the fan message boards to light up with rampant speculation of imminent deals to solve all of Colletti's problems.

Except for one thing. Nothing seems to be imminent.

"It's relatively quiet right now," he said. "Teams are not convinced they have real needs yet. When we get closer to the end of March, clubs find if they have legitimate needs, and they'll be more inclined to seek you out than they are now."

Besides, there's more to this roster puzzle than unloading a couple of pitchers you don't seem to have room for, and getting in return the franchise hitter that will turn you into a world champion.

"We build the team for the year, not for Opening Day," he said. "We have to be thoughtful in the way we go about it and make the right choices, not for the first day in April, but for the whole season. If there is something [a trade] out there that makes sense, we'll take a shot at it. We don't usually do things just to do them."

He wasn't in a hurry to unload any pitching over the winter and doesn't seem to be now. As manager Grady Little has pointed out, the swingman pitchers -- "sixth starters," in Little's words -- made 22 starts last year.

Aaron Sele made 15 of those, despite opening the season at Triple-A Las Vegas, which is why someone like Joe Mays is getting a long look in camp despite the perceived surplus. Mays could be this year's Sele.

Too much pitching, that's a good thing. Uncertainty at third base, not such a good thing.

If there is a hot-button issue this Dodgers camp, it's the hot corner. Colletti acquired Wilson Betemit last season in the latest attempt to replace Adrian Beltre, and Betemit hit 18 home runs between the Dodgers and Braves, but the switch-hitter slumped batting right-handed and his play this spring has been erratic.

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Of the other options, rookie Andy La Roche hasn't hit with much power, and he's committed six errors. Fernando Tatis has already been released. There's always the Nomar Garciaparra and James Loney scenario, but ...

"I'm not even thinking about that now," said Little, who still sounds committed to Betemit rather than switching Garciaparra to third to open first base for Loney.

"I like the progress he's making," Little said of Betemit. "He's struggled some, but he's starting to put together good at-bats both left-handed and right-handed, and his defense is better. The other day he started a double play only a couple guys in the game could have started.

"His defense impressed me the most last year. So far this spring, he came in ready to work, and he got bad results early on. But now we're seeing the same player we saw last year."

Little informed Chad Billingsley this week that he would be pitching out of the bullpen. In the upcoming days, Little will be breaking news to a lot of pitchers. Some will be disappointed to learn they are being sent to Triple-A at the end of camp. Very often, technicalities like "options" come into play when a club contemplates cuts.

Wilson Valdez, for example, is making a strong bid for a utility job this spring after spending all of 2006 at Triple-A. Valdez is on the 40-man roster but out of options, so the club cannot send him back to Triple-A without risking his loss to any of the other 29 teams.

By contrast, while Hong-Chih Kuo is in the running for the fifth starter's job, if he doesn't win it, the club can option him back to Triple-A without fear of losing him. They could instead keep another pitcher -- non-roster invitee Rudy Seanez, for example -- who otherwise would refuse a Minor League assignment and leave the organization if he does not make the club for Opening Day.

"We'll have a lot of tough choices," said Colletti.

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

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }