Saito struggling to regain form

Saito struggling to regain form

PHOENIX -- Takashi Saito is an All-Star, the man who helped Dodgers fans get over the departure of Eric Gagne.

But Saito's also 38 now, behind in his innings count because of a strained calf muscle that is now healed, and he allowed a two-run homer to Mike Napoli in the Dodgers' 4-2 loss to the Angels on Saturday.

Saito said that the calf was a nonfactor in Saturday's outing, when he allowed three runs on three sharp hits, giving him a 9.00 ERA after four appearances. Nor was it a factor, he said, when he was late covering first on an infield single.

Saito insisted that his arm feels fine, although his velocity isn't back to midseason 93-mph form and his location hasn't been sharp.

"I'm not concerned," said manager Joe Torre. "He's behind the other guys. His fastball isn't where it's supposed to be and, in turn, his breaking ball is not there."

Torre's response triggered a question about Mariano Rivera, his eight-time All-Star closer with the Yankees and a future Hall of Famer, a question that understandably brought back fond memories.

"I never had a decision to make," Torre said. "There he was, I trusted him. I've been fortunate over the years to have somebody to go to, and [John] Wetteland before him. There's a reason to win. The most important thing is getting the last three outs."

Like Saito, Rudy Seanez is behind after struggling with a strained groin earlier in camp. Seanez allowed a home run to Justin Upton on Friday, which made the Saturday appearance of relative unknown Ramon Troncoso intriguing for a game so near to Opening Day.

Jonathan Broxton and Joe Beimel, who have made the club, pitched two innings each in a simulated game without a screen on Saturday so they could get in their innings while management looked at such pitchers as Troncoso, who is sneaking into the picture as a middle reliever with a hard sinker and the early makings of a cutter.

Troncoso, a right-hander who split time between Class A and Double-A last year, gave the brass more to think about. He threw a 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout on a cutter and has allowed three hits in 6 2/3 innings this spring. Brian Falkenborg also pitched well, retiring the two batters he faced.

Meanwhile, in the simulated game, Broxton looked the part of a closer in training while pitching against Jeff Kent, Mark Sweeney and Jason Repko. He was especially effective with a splitter, which he said is far advanced from a year ago and which will allow him to throw fewer sliders.

Beimel (7.71 ERA) wasn't thrilled with his pitches, and the left-hander very nearly was injured as well when Repko smoked a line drive off his glove, leaving his non-pitching hand bruised.

"It should be all right -- nothing's broken," said Beimel. "It's swollen. That was close. I saw it coming, but it moved on me."

Beimel prefers live game situations to simulated games, but the Dodgers are improvising because of the relocation to Arizona after the China trip and the fact that they have no Minor League teams handy to conduct games for the benefit of big league pitchers in need of innings.

Mike Myers, competing for a bullpen job and the logical left-handed replacement if anything happens to Beimel, retired the only batter he faced in the game.

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