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Ashby Takes Bullpen Role in Stride

Times Staff Writer

Dodger pitcher Andy Ashby did not pull an Omar Daal this week -- when told he’d open the season in the bullpen, Ashby did not ask to be traded, the way Daal did last spring.

“What are you going to do, go down there and be mad, mope around?” Ashby said before the Dodgers’ 5-3 exhibition victory over the Colorado Rockies at Cashman Field on Thursday night. “No. I’m going to do the job, and everything else will take care of itself.”

The Dodgers wouldn’t mind if the differences between Ashby and Daal end there. If Ashby comes close to repeating the kind of season Daal had in 2002, when the left-hander went 11-9 with a 3.90 earned-run average while shuttling between the bullpen and rotation, the Dodgers would be elated.

“Andy has to look no further than Omar Daal to realize how important a person like that can be to a ballclub,” Dodger Manager Jim Tracy said. “With the nicks and bruises that come with a season, a role like that can be vital to a club.”

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Ashby’s vital signs could factor into how he adjusts to a long relief role. “I just hope to keep my blood pressure down every time that phone rings,” said Ashby, who hasn’t made a regular-season relief appearance since 1993. “It’s a game of adjustments, and I’ll have plenty to make.”

Dodger pitching coach Jim Colborn said Ashby must learn to get loose quicker and to control his adrenaline.

“The emotional part is tough because the game is going faster than you are at first, and you have to learn to relax, calm yourself down,” Colborn said. “But I’m not worried about him.”

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Joe Thurston returned to the city where he enjoyed a 196-hit season in 2002. If he doesn’t do something to set himself apart from other second-base candidates in the last weekend of spring training, he probably will return to triple-A Las Vegas to start this season.

“That’s why he’s in [the lineup], because I still haven’t made up my mind,” Tracy said before Thursday night’s game. “I’m still evaluating; my eyes are wide open.... You can’t ignore what he’s done the last few years, but there are no handouts here.”

Thurston, who lined a hard single to center and was hit by a pitch in three plate appearances Thursday night, was practically handed the second-base job after the Dodgers traded Mark Grudzielanek to the Chicago Cubs over the winter, but he lost his grip on it by hitting .226 (12 for 53) this spring.

If the Dodgers determine Thurston is not ready to start in the big leagues, they’ll send him to triple A instead of using him as reserve, because his development will be better served by playing every day.

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The Dodgers are leaning toward a 12-man pitching staff--including suspended reliever Guillermo Mota -- and a five-man bench to open the season, because Tracy doesn’t want to be short an arm for the first four days, and the bench offers more flexibility in terms of roster decisions.

Catcher Todd Hundley, outfielder Daryle Ward and utility player Mike Kinkade are locks, and utility man Jolbert Cabrera is the leading candidate for a fourth spot.

The fifth spot would probably come down to Terry Shumpert or Ron Coomer, who are both signed to minor league contracts and wouldn’t have to clear waivers to be sent down.

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But if Thurston opens at Las Vegas, the Dodgers could begin the season with Coomer or Shumpert and then recall the one who is sent down when Mota is eligible next Friday.

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In his last spring tune-up, Dodger left-hander Odalis Perez gave up three runs -- two earned -- and six hits, struck out eight and walked one in 5 2/3 innings against Colorado, throwing 92 pitches. Brian Jordan hit a solo home run, and Fred McGriff hit a two-run double.... Third baseman Adrian Beltre, sidelined since Monday after fouling a ball off his left foot, returned to the lineup Thursday night.... The Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are among several teams that have expressed interest in reliever Giovanni Carrara, who was released by the Dodgers on Wednesday.


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