J.P. Howell has rough opening to his Dodgers' closing bid

J.P. Howell has rough opening to his Dodgers' closing bid
Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell had a 2.39 earned-run average in 68 games last season. (Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images)

The bullpen was the Dodgers’ most challenging -- see, I can be polite -- area last season, and now with closer Kenley Jansen out perhaps the first six weeks of the season, it might be even more so in 2015.

The Dodgers have more new arms in the bullpen than Scott Van Slyke has whiskers. How they all fit and emerge out of spring will be one of their biggest stories. Only now they not only have to identify their seven best relievers out of the 736 in camp, they have to find one to close.

One candidate is left-hander J.P. Howell, who saved 17 games in 2009 for the Tampa Bay Rays when Andrew Friedman was their general manager.

But in the Dodgers’ 7-4, split-squad victory over the Mariners at Camelback Ranch on Friday, Howell did not exactly start off his closing argument in style.

Howell, who pitched brilliantly last season for the Dodgers (2.39 earned-run average, 1.14 walks plus hits per inning pitched, 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 68 games) until tiring down the stretch, had a rough outing against Seattle.

In his one inning, he gave up two runs on two hits. He gave up a two-run homer to shortstop Chris Taylor on a full count. One inning, of course, in his first outing. Not exactly a career killer.

Still, the Dodgers will be watching their relievers very closely, not just to figure out that top seven, but the man -- or men -- who will close until Jansen returns.

Other relievers fared much better against Seattle. David Aardsma, once the Mariners closer, threw a strong inning. Middle relief candidate David Huff started the game and threw two scoreless innings, giving up one hit and striking out two. Right-hander Dustin McGowan’s bid was rocked a bit when he gave up two runs on two hits in his one inning.

The Dodgers then closed with a pitching flourish. Former No.1 draft pick Chris Anderson, a starting pitcher, looked sharp in throwing two scoreless innings. Paco Rodriguez and Pedro Baez then each pitched an inning, blanking the Mariners on one hit apiece.

Offensively the Dodgers managed nine hits, with first baseman O'Koyea Dickson hitting his second home run. He's hit 62 home runs in four minor league seasons, none above double A.

Erisbel Arruebarrena, the Cuban infielder who went unclaimed in the winter and is no longer on the 40-man roster, had two hits and drove in a run.