Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Dodgers get out their crystal ball
By Tony Jackson
Somewhat lost amid all the things we can expect to see when the Los Angeles Dodgers take on the Oakland A's at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in a few hours -- Aaron Harang making his Dodgers debut, back-end bullpen mates Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra making their first Cactus League appearances this spring and Manny Ramirez wearing a green-and-gold jersey -- is the fact that we also will get a look at Chris Withrow.
We have seen him before, actually. He came over from minor league camp a couple of times last year and was very impressive, both with his results and with the stuff the fireballing right-hander was throwing. But now, the Dodgers' first-round pick from the 2007 draft is on the 40-man roster and in big league camp, and he has an outside chance of being in the majors sometime this year.
What makes it an outside chance, as opposed to one of those knocking-at-the-door, going-to-get-here-anyday-now chances, is the fact that Withrow is strictly projected as a starter, and there is at least one other starter who figures to begin the season at Triple-A Albuquerque, Nathan Eovaldi, who is ahead of him on the depth chart right now.
This morning, I asked manager Don Mattingly whether Withrow would be considered for a callup if an opening came up in the bullpen sometime during the season, because with injuries and whatnot, openings always come up in the bullpen, usually with some degree of regularity.
Mattingly seemed to say, in so many words, no.
"I know Honey (pitching coach Rick Honeycutt) likes to do that,'' Mattingly said. "He feels like (the bullpen) is a place for a guy to get his feet wet and get a small taste of it. But it will probably depend on how he is coming along. I think we would be a little more hesitant to kick him into a different role. Starting and relieving are two different things. A starting pitcher has a routine that he goes through, whereas in the bullpen, you get the call, you get up, and you're in. I know it doesn't seem all that different. But last year, with Nate and Rubby (De La Rosa), we had to give them the full (warmup time). If we knew we were going to pitch one of them in the sixth inning, we had to let them know by the fifth.
"You have to be careful with how you get those guys up. You can't just fire them up and get them in.''
Now keep in mind, September is a different time, so we might have a better chance of seeing Withrow in Los Angeles then. By that time, the minor league season will be over, Withrow will be at or near his innings-limit for the year, and it will be much easier for him to go to the bullpen and be used for an inning here or there just to get that aforementioned taste of big league life. But unless the Dodgers suffer a string of injuries to starting pitchers -- and if that happens, you pretty much can write off the 2012 season -- don't expect to see Withrow in the majors before Labor Day.
Oh, by the way, you can expect to see him make a start in the Cactus League, probably in half of a split-squad doubleheader on March 17 against the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants. That likely would be his last hurrah before being sent to the minor league side so he can start building up his innings for the regular season.