Notes: LA seeks closure from starters
Spring routine tweaked due to just one complete game in '06
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Brad Penny, who hasn't completed a game since '05, tossed two shutout frames Saturday. (Richard Drew/AP)
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Dodgers starting pitchers last year completed only one game, averaging 5 1/3 innings per start and leaving excess innings for the bullpen to pick up.
Whether anything can be done in Spring Training to change those numbers is uncertain, but pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said the club will try.
"We looked at last year and the starters averaged seven starts in the spring and we'll go with the same plan this year, but the thing we'll try to do is get every starter extended to seven innings and 95-100 pitches before camp is over with," said Honeycutt.
"We think with the 'B' games and split-squads, we can have each of them get up and down for six or seven innings at least once."
Last Spring Training, the longest a Dodgers starter went was six innings, accomplished once each by Derek Lowe, Brett Tomko and Jae Seo. In Seo's case, he had already been extended while pitching for Korea in the World Baseball Classic.
The pitchers that figure to start the first four games of the season -- Lowe, Randy Wolf, Jason Schmidt and Brad Penny -- have completed only 39 of 878 Major League starts. With 20, Schmidt has more than half that total. Wolf, battling elbow problems, hasn't completed a game since 2004. Penny hasn't completed one since 2005. Lowe had the Dodgers' only complete game last year.
Penny, Kuo effective: In their first game against the Mets since last year's playoff struggles, the Dodgers scored four runs in the ninth inning for a 5-2 win Saturday at Port St. Lucie.
Penny, likely to start his first regular-season game in San Francisco on April 6, allowed five baserunners, but kept the Mets scoreless in two innings. Penny has come to camp in what he believes is the best shape of his career. He often peddles a bike the 20-minute trip from his home to Dodgertown, and his breakfasts are now fresh fruit.
"I worked hard in the winter and I'm pain-free," he said. "Last year, if I'd pitched like this the first game, I'd be gassed. I was a little wild [three walks and a hit batter], but for the first time throwing that hard, I was glad to get it out of the way."
Penny could be a winner Sunday regardless of the Dodgers' score. A horse he owns in partnership, Golden Playgirl, shoots for her third consecutive victory in the sixth race at Santa Anita.
If Kuo didn't already have the inside track on joining Penny in the rotation as the fifth starter, he probably does after his two scoreless innings. Pitching out of a windup that he abandoned after his second Tommy John elbow operation, Kuo allowed only three baserunners. He said he used all of his pitches, including a new changeup he's been working on.
"He seems to have a lot more confidence after what he did at the end of last year," said catcher Russell Martin, the Dodgers' only position starter to make the trip. "He looked really good."
Last year, Kuo said he preferred starting to relieving because it allowed his elbow more time to warm up. On Saturday, he said he still prefers to start, but is more comfortable with relieving because his elbow feels better than a year ago.
"It feels better after I throw, not so sore," he said. "I still think starting is better for my body, but relieving is OK this year."
Andy La Roche went 2-for-3 with a walk, but also was charged with two errors at third base. The winning rally was started by James Loney's bloop single and included Fernando Tatis' double (he also singled) and a clutch RBI single by Choo Freeman. John Meloan overcame initial excitement to get the win and Eric Hull got the save.
Watch Wilson: That's Wilson Valdez, an infielder who spent last season as the shortstop for Triple-A Las Vegas (where he hit .297 and was named team MVP) after being acquired from Kansas City at the end of last Spring Training.
Valdez, who is out of options, had two hits in Friday's game and another Saturday, but otherwise has been under the radar this spring. Instructor Maury Wills is trying to change that.
"He reminds me of me when I spent that time in the Minor Leagues and nobody seemed to notice," Wills said. "Wilson who? But he has ability. He can do a lot of things. But I saw him in batting practice, doing just what the veterans were doing, taking their swings and trotting around the bases. I told him he had to bunt the last pitch, run around the bases, do things to make people notice."
Valdez has appeared in 70 Major League games with the White Sox, Mariners and Padres.
Wearing both blues: The Mets have 18 uniformed personnel (including manager Willie Randolph and members of the coaching staff) that once wore Dodger Blue. They are: Sandy Alomar Jr., Ricky Bones, Mark Brewer, Marcos Carvajal, Guy Conti, Rick Down, Pedro Feliciano, Shawn Green, Rickey Henderson, Paul Lo Duca, Pedro Martinez, Guillermo Mota, Chan-Ho Park, Randolph, Duaner Sanchez, Steve Schmoll, Aaron Sele and Jose Valentin.
Sold out: The Dodgers announced that Opening Day tickets sold out in less than 15 minutes Saturday, and sales for the season reached 2 million faster than any year since 1993. By 9:30 a.m. PT, more than 4,000 fans were lined up at Dodger Stadium to purchase tickets.
"Each year, our fans continue to come out in record numbers," said Dodgers executive vice president and chief operating officer Marty Greenspun. "It remains our goal to continually put a winning team on the field and provide a fan-friendly environment that all Southern California Dodger fans will enjoy for years to come."
Coming up: The Dodgers play split-squad games Sunday. Opening Day starter Lowe will start against the Braves at Vero Beach, and fifth-starter candidate Tomko starts against the Nationals in Viera.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.