GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The battle for the last spot in the Los Angeles Dodgers' bullpen -- which manager Don Mattingly insists isn't necessarily just a battle to hold down a roster spot until Blake Hawksworth comes off the disabled list -- is beginning to reach full intensity with two weeks to go before the team breaks camp.
Although no one is willing to say anyone is beginning to gain an edge, I'm going to go out on a limb -- this is not an informed opinion, just an educated guess based on the way this front office usually does things -- and say that spot will go either to Jamey Wright or John Grabow, with Grabow possibly having the slightest of advantages because he is left-handed.
In his six-plus years as the Dodgers general manager, Ned Colletti has always placed added importance on what he calls "inventory.'' What this means is that if he can, Colletti likes to avoid losing players from the organization if he thinks those players can be of help at some point. And given that the vast majority of major league veterans who are signed to minor league contracts and brought to camp as non-roster invitees are given escape clauses as part of those contracts, that means those players generally have the edge over prospects who still have minor league options.
Add to that the fact that both Wright and Grabow have long track records and at least some degree of success in the majors and the fact that both have "out'' clauses they can exercise around the end of camp if they don't make the club, and this begins to look to the naked eye like a two-horse race.
Keep in mind, the Dodgers presently have only one lefty in their pen in Scott Elbert and were prepared to proceed that way if Hawksworth had been fully recovered from off-season elbow surgery. But Hawksworth's subsequent infection and second surgery to clean it out are expected to keep him on the DL for the first few weeks of the season, and there are indications that at least some in the front office and on the coaching staff are less than comfortable with having only one lefty in the pen. Moreover, Grabow hasn't allowed a run in three Cactus League appearances and has three strikeouts without a walk.
On the other hand, Wright had a solid season for the Seattle Mariners last year, posting a 3.16 ERA in 60 relief appearances. Grabow wasn't as good, posting a 4.76 in 58 appearances for the Chicago Cubs.
One other pitcher to consider, however, is Ramon Troncoso. He has fallen on hard times over the past two seasons, and he only made 18 appearances in the majors last year. But he has pitched well this spring (one run in four innings) and -- and this is important, again, because of Colletti's distaste for losing players -- is out of minor league options, meaning the Dodgers will have to pass him through waivers if he doesn't make the team.
Oh, and don't forget Wil Ledezma, another veteran reliever who hasn't had much success in recent years. He also is left-handed, and he also has pitched well for the Dodgers this spring.
One player Colletti has let get away is non-roster lefty Alberto Castillo, who had a 2.31 ERA in 17 appearances for the Arizona Diamondbacks last year. He was released on Sunday morning after just three appearances in the Cactus League.
"We didn't feel like he was going fit for us,'' Mattingly said. "More than anything, it was fair to him at this point to give him a chance. (Teams) are looking for lefties. We didn't see him being the guy for us, and we didn't see him being that guy at Triple-A, either. We just thought it was better to give him a chance to be in the big leagues with somebody else.''
The Dodgers also reassigned pitchers Will Savage, Matt Chico and Ryan Tucker to minor league camp. More cuts are expected after Sunday's game with the Los Angeles Angels.