Little to keep 11 pitchers

Times Staff Writer

James Loney, Larry Bigbie and Wilson Valdez aren’t pitchers, but a decision regarding the staff was expected to have a great impact on at least one of them.

The Dodgers will begin the season with 11 pitchers instead of 12, Manager Grady Little said before a 9-1 loss to the Washington Nationals on Monday, creating a 14th opening for a position player. Vying for the spot are Loney, a polished first baseman and neophyte outfielder who led the minor leagues with a .380 batting average in triple A last season; Bigbie, a veteran outfielder who has been impressive after signing a minor league contract; and Valdez, a journeyman utility player whose versatility and strong spring have kept him in contention.

Loney has nothing to prove at triple A except developing power, yet he would be the easiest of the three players to demote because he has minor league options.

Bigbie’s contract has an escape clause that would enable him to sign with another team if the Dodgers try to send him down. Valdez is out of options and could sign with another team if he’s not on the opening day roster.


Bigbie and Valdez might become attractive trade bait the last week of the spring. The Dodgers are reluctant to trade Loney because he remains their best insurance against an injury to first baseman Nomar Garciaparra.

The 11 pitchers are all but set: starters Derek Lowe, Randy Wolf, Jason Schmidt and Brad Penny; relievers Takashi Saito, Jonathan Broxton, Joe Beimel, Chad Billingsley and Elmer Dessens; and fifth starter/long relievers Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson.

Among the other pitchers in camp, only Hong-Chih Kuo and Rudy Seanez have a realistic chance of making the team, and only then if there is an injury or trade.

Tough day

Broxton didn’t retire any of the five hitters he faced in the eighth, walking two and ending his outing by giving up a two-run single to Robert Fick. He attributed the poor showing to his lack of work and the fact that he was tinkering with a split-finger pitch.

“I was trying to get ground balls early in the count with the splittees and getting behind instead,” Broxton said.

Broxton, who hadn’t pitched in more than a week because he was scheduled to pitch in a game Friday that was rained out, will throw today against the St. Louis Cardinals, marking the first time this spring he has worked on consecutive days. Saito also is scheduled to pitch for the second day in a row.

Seven sent to minors


Pitchers Eric Stults, D.J. Houlton, John Meloan and Matt White, outfielders Delwyn Young and Choo Freeman and infielder Tony Abreu were sent to minor league camp.

Although Meloan might be the only one of the seven who doesn’t begin the season at triple-A Las Vegas, he is considered the best prospect among them.

Meloan is a budding closer who was nearly promoted to the Dodgers last September despite making only five appearances at double A.

The most likely scenario is for Meloan to begin the season as the closer at double-A Jacksonville. He could finish it at Dodger Stadium.


“He will be closing somewhere, we’re not sure where yet,” Little said. “He’s really impressed us this spring. Outside of Juan Pierre, he’s probably spent more time in that clubhouse than anybody. He arrives early and leaves late.”

Stults and Houlton should be in the Las Vegas rotation and White will be a left-handed setup reliever.

“We told White to focus on getting left-handed hitters out,” Little said.

Young and Freeman should be everyday outfielders at Las Vegas and Abreu will be the second baseman.


“Watching Young day in and day out, he’s very impressive,” Little said. “His outfield play is improving, and that bat will play in the big leagues some day.”

Around the horn

The Dodgers hadn’t scored in 14 2/3 innings when Garciaparra scored in the sixth on a bases-loaded forceout by Bigbie.... Outfielder Jason Repko continued his rapid recovery from a pulled groin, playing center field in a minor league game. He is scheduled to get five at-bats today in another minor league game and could be available for Grapefruit League action by Thursday.... Schmidt will pitch five or six innings in a simulated game against minor leaguers today instead of starting against the Cardinals. Hendrickson, battling for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, will start instead.