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Turns out there is winner for rotation's fifth spot — Josh Beckett

There was a competition, sort of. And there is a winner, apparently.

With Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley trying to come back from surgery, in the off-season the Dodgers signed veteran left-hander Paul Maholm to add rotation depth.

The Dodgers knew Billingsley (Tommy John surgery) would not be ready until sometime in May, so the fifth spot in the rotation was supposed to come down to either Beckett or Maholm.

Neither had a sterling spring, but there is a winner, though it was never exactly announced until almost offhandedly Friday — Beckett.

At least, as managers are prone to say, for the moment.

“That’s the way we’ve played it,” said Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly. “We always felt like Josh had the upper hand. But we really didn’t know where the health was going to be, how that was going to go.

“In a sense it’s still up in air because you never know what happens with that shoulder as we keep getting it built up. But Josh has seemed to cross every hurdle at this point.”

Beckett had his upper right rib removed to avoid it pressuring a nerve that was causing numbness in his pitching hand. He went 0-1 with a 5.63 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 8 1/3 spring innings before having to be shut down when his right thumb was slammed in a clubhouse door.

He was placed on the 15-day disabled list, remained in Arizona and began pitching in camp games as the thumb improved while the team started the season in Australia. He is scheduled to pitch a simulated game during Monday’s off day in San Diego.

Maholm had appeared in 243 games during his eight-year career, but only once in relief until pitching to one batter last weekend in Australia. Maholm made it clear he had come to camp to win a spot in the rotation. In his 7 2/3 spring innings, he had a 7.04 ERA and 1.57 WHIP.

Beckett pitched in a simulated game at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday and Mattingly said he was confident enough in his recovery that if injuries to Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Ryu necessitated an additional starting pitcher sooner than the middle of April, as originally projected, he felt Beckett could go.

“We feel like Josh will be ready to pitch,” Mattingly said. “He’s held up pretty good. He threw five innings the other night.

“We would prefer for him to be built up a little further, but if he absolutely had to pitch, we think he’s going to be a guy that by the time he’s eligible, could help us.”

Beckett is eligible to come off the disabled list April 4. And if Kershaw and Ryu are able to go next week and the Dodgers don’t need a fifth starter until the middle of the month, it will be Beckett.

“He’s going to get a shot at it,” Mattingly said.

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