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Sunday, March 21, 2010
Roller-coaster day for Stults

By Tony Jackson
ESPNLosAngeles.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Eric Stults' candidacy for the vacant fifth spot in the Los Angeles Dodgers' starting rotation appeared to take a sizable step forward on Sunday -- just before it took a gargantuan step backward.

The left-hander, who is out of minor-league options and probably being shopped by the club on the trade market, plowed through the Cleveland Indians fairly effortlessly through the first three innings, then became his own worst enemy in what became a 12-5 Cactus League loss before 9,754 at the Ballpark.

After retiring Asdrubal Cabrera on a grounder to second to start the fourth, Stults had faced the minimum without giving up a hit, erasing a one-out walk to Grady Sizemore in the first by getting Travis Hafner to ground into a double play. But then, with one out in the fourth, Stults walked Sizemore, who stole second; gave up a run-scoring double to Hafner; gave up a three-run homer to Austin Kearns; and walked Luis Rodriguez.

That brought Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt out with the hook, ending Stults' afternoon and possibly his bid for the fifth spot.

"It just seemed like once he got guys on base, the tempo slowed down,'' said Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly, who was managing the team for the day while Joe Torre was in Los Angeles to attend a play his daughter was appearing in. "All of a sudden, after getting ahead in the count for three innings, he was behind in the count, behind in the count, behind in the count, and that will get you in trouble most of the time.''

It's a tendency Stults has shown before, and that's a big reason why, at age 30 and almost four years after his big-league debut, he still hasn't been able to stick in the majors for any length of time. There have been flashes of brilliance, such as the complete-game shutouts he threw against the Chicago White Sox in 2008 and the San Francisco Giants in 2009, but they have always proved to be fleeting.

Stults hadn't given up a hit or a run in either of his first two starts this spring, a two-inning stint against the White Sox on March 6 and a three-inning effort against a Taiwanese All-Star team on March 12. But because this race is still so crowded -- Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz, Charlie Haeger, Josh Towers and Rule 5 pick Carlos Monasterios are the other candidates -- there is precious little margin for error, especially for a pitcher with Stults' track record. Even more telling is that Torre on Saturday said some of those fifth-starter candidates are also being considered for bullpen spots, and he didn't mention Stults' name as he was listing them.

However, assuming Stults doesn't make the team, that doesn't necessarily mean his time with the organization is up. If he clears waivers, the Dodgers can simply outright him to Triple-A Albuquerque to start the season and still have him in the fold in case someone in the rotation is injured, which is exactly the circumstance under which he generally has been called to the majors in the past.

Harris has quadruple bypass

Dodgers minor league hitting coach Lenny Harris underwent an emergency quadruple bypass operation after being rushed to a Phoenix-area hospital on Friday with chest pains.

Harris didn't suffer a heart attack, but he was found to have life-threatening blockages in four arteries.

Harris was said to be resting comfortably on Sunday. Both Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and team spokesperson Joe Jareck said the club could not disclose medical information about Harris.

Harris, 45, is baseball's all-time leader in pinch hits with 220. As a big-league player, he spent five of his 18 seasons with the Dodgers. He presently serves as the senior hitting coach for Camelback Ranch, where the Dodgers' spring training, Arizona Rookie League and fall Instructional League operations are based.

The typical recovery period for such a procedure is about two months.

Martin takes live at-bats

Russell Martin took a significant step in his rehabilitation from a right groin injury, taking live batting practice for the first time on Sunday against a pair of minor-league pitchers.

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Martin

The original prognosis, which trainer Stan Conte admits was a rough estimate, was for Martin to miss four to six weeks after he initially suffered the injury on March 6. There is still a possibility he could be ready for the April 5 season opener.

Conte said Martin is about 80 percent healthy right now, but added it is impossible to predict how quickly the other 20 percent will come. The other part of the equation is that when Martin is healthy enough for game action, depending on when that is, he might need several games in either the Cactus League or in the minor-league regular season before he is ready to return to the Dodgers' lineup.

Good day for G.A.

Garret Anderson went 3 for 3 with a triple and is hitting .438 (7 for 16) in six games, giving credence to the notion that the primary left-handed pinch-hitting job is his to lose. Doug Mientkiewicz, Anderson's only remaining competition for the job, is hitting a respectable .286, but he hasn't started a game in almost a week, and his playing time the past two days consisted of entering at first base in the eighth inning.

DeWitt's second chances

Blake DeWitt's bid for the everyday second-base job is probably too close to call at this point, even though he is hitting .371 in the Cactus League and hit his second home run of the spring on Sunday off Cleveland's Jake Westbrook. Trying to re-learn a position he has played only sparingly in recent years, DeWitt has looked solid at times and shaky at others.

Against the Indians, he finally turned the pivot on a double play for the first time this spring -- two of them, in fact, starting one himself and taking a throw from shortstop Angel Berroa on the other. But he also committed another error, this one on a grounder deep in the hole behind the bag by Asdrubal Cabrera that led to an unearned run off Ramon Troncoso.

Notes

The Dodgers reassigned non-roster infielder Alfredo Amezaga, who is still rehabilitating from left-knee surgery and hasn't been on the field all spring, to minor-league camp. The move reduced the camp roster to 41 players, not including still-missing reliever Ronald Belisario, who is expected to arrive sometime this week. Amezaga isn't expected to be 100 percent healthy or a viable option for a big-league callup until a few weeks into the regular season. & Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Hideki Matsui is expected to play left field for the first time since June 15, 2008, during a game against the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch on Monday. & For the first time this spring, the Dodgers will play simultaneous split-squad games on Monday, with hitting coach Mattingly managing the game against the Milwaukee Brewers in at Maryvale Baseball Park. Left-hander Clayton Kershaw will start that game and be followed by fifth-starter candidate Russ Ortiz. Carlos Monasterios, a Rule 5 pick who is also a candidate for the fifth spot, will start against the Angels at Camelback Ranch.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.