John Ely optioned, still in starter mix

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander John Ely was optioned to minor league camp on Saturday morning, a purely procedural mvoe that will have little impact on his effort to secure a spot in the major league rotation if and when the Dodgers need a fifth starter for the first time on April 12.

Additionally, non-roster reliever Ron Mahay, who went to camp to try to earn a job as a situational lefty out of the bullpen, exercised the escape clause in his minor league contract and became a free agent after club officials let him know Friday he wouldn't make the team.

Non-roster infielder Eugenio Velez, who suffered a severe ankle sprain earlier this week but probably wasn't going to make the team anyway, also was reassigned to minor league camp.

While team officials remain hopeful that Jon Garland's oblique strain will sufficiently heal to allow him to make that April 12 start against the San Francisco Giants, manager Don Mattingly said Friday that team officials will err on the side of caution with Garland, making it sound unlikely he will be ready.

In that event, either Ely or non-roster right-hander Tim Redding will be called up to make that start. But Mattingly said on Friday that both of those pitchers will begin the season in the minors, so Ely's demotion had nothing to do with the fact he was torched for six runs over four innings by the Seattle Mariners in a Cactus League game on Friday night.

The move does mean a slight change in Ely's immediate future, though. While Mattingly had planned to bring Ely to Los Angeles next week to start the final spring training game Wednesday night against the Mariners, Ely now will stay behind and make his final start in minor league camp that day, with top pitching prospect Rubby De La Rosa going against the Mariners at Dodger Stadium. De La Rosa is not a candidate for the Opening Day roster.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.