The final Dodgers bullpen spot has been all but decided, with Jamey Wright beating out John Grabow for a relief role on the club. Both relief pitchers could have opted out of their minor league contracts any time after Sunday, and Wright said on Monday that only paperwork remained in his addition to the 40-man roster.
Wright, who struck out the only batter he faced in Monday's game, a 4-3 Dodgers win over the Chicago White Sox, spoke earlier on Monday with general manager Ned Colletti, who delivered the news. The paperwork in question could take some time, as it will involve clearing a spot for Wright on the 40-man roster. That could come in the form of Blake Hawksworth being placed on the 60-day disabled list or Ronald Belisario being placed on the suspended list, for instance.
For Wright, this will make seven years in a row that he has made a major league team as a non-roster invitee. "It gets more stressful, but it's exciting every time," said Wright.
"I think there was only one game I gave up a run the last two months of the season, so I felt great. I finished the year strong and pitched as well as I ever have," Wright said, referring to his final 19 appearances with the Seattle Mariners last season. "In my mind I don't feel like a non-roster guy. I feel like a guy who is going to be a big part of this team."
Grabow, who has allowed just four hits and a walk in six innings this spring with seven strikeouts, opted out of his contract and became a free agent.
"He's pitched well, it's not like he has pitched badly," manager Don Mattingly said of Grabow. "The timing of it for these guys is really giving them a chance. We're not here to keep guys from pitching in the big leagues."
There are now 40 players remaining in big league camp for the Dodgers.
Sands Delivers, But Writing Is On The Wall
Jerry Sands lined a single into left field to score Elian Herrera with the winning run for the Dodgers in today's game, but it was a rare moment of success for Sands this spring. It was the sixth hit in 38 at-bats in Cactus League play for Sands, who has essentially spent all of spring trying to relearn the changes to his swing that he honed at the end of last season.
"There were little things that people think I need to work on, and small things can throw big things off," Sands said. "Me going up to the plate worrying about things going on with my swing and not worrying about picking up pitches, it's tougher than it looks up there. I've kind of been out of it so far."
Sands is still technically in the running for the final bench spot, which would preferably be a right-handed hitter ("I want to be able to thump a left-hander," Mattingly said). But it seems clear that Sands is not going to make this team, at least not the opening day roster.
"It's been a rough camp for Jerry. We've seen his hands change from up to down, he's been spread out then got more narrow," Mattingly said. "There have been a lot of changes, and it's tough. It's hard to get any kind of consistency when you're like that.
"If he doesn't make the club, more than anything it's because he's struggled and we don't feel like he's going to be the guy for us at this moment."
Chad Billingsley struggled in his fifth Cactus League start, allowing three runs on 11 hits and throwing 101 pitches in his 5 2/3 innings, but there were signs of encouragement.
"He gave up a lot of hits, especially early. But it wasn't like there were bullets all over the park," Mattingly said. "For me, there was a lot of quality pitches in there, and then the bounceback. All of a sudden he found his rhythm and he kept going, and it didn't turn into a disaster."
Billingsley gave up nine hits and three runs in the first three innings, but then rebounded to retire eight in a row before giving up a pair of singles in the sixth inning. Billingsley struck out five and walked two on the day.
"I was making decent pitches, but they were finding holes," said Billingsley. "I got into a good tempo and rhythm, that was the main thing that changed, but as far as execution everything felt pretty good."
Billingsley is scheduled to pitch next on Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks in what will be a short outing as the final tuneup before his April 6 start against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park in the second game of the regular season. After spending a spring working on fixing his mechanics in his windup, Billingsley is happy where he is at heading into the season.
"Coming into camp I was working on some mechanical stuff, and it's been going really good. My pitches have more life, and everything feels smoother out there," he said. "I don't have to really force to throw the ball to a certain side of the plate."
The Dodgers head to Peoria on Tuesday to face the San Diego Padres. Ted Lilly was originally scheduled to start this game but was scratched with neck stiffness. Tomorrow will essentially be a bullpen game for the Dodgers, with some yet unnamed pitchers from minor league camp mixed in as well.
Casey Kelly will start for the Padres.
Home Runs: none
WP - Ronald Belisario (1-0): 1 IP, 1 hit
LP - Eric Stults (1-1): 1/3 IP, 1 hit, 1 run, 2 walks