Dodgers coach Ken Howell played seven years in the major leagues, but he had never seen anything like the sight that greeted him at Petco Park on Friday: More than four dozen journalists, notebooks and cameras at the ready, were crowded on the warning track, waiting for the Dodgers -- or waiting for one Dodger, at least -- to step on the field for batting practice.
“All this,” Howell complained, “for one guy?”
Back in the clubhouse, which was also crowded with reporters, pitcher Randy Wolf playfully came to the same conclusion.
“This,” he joked, “is for Claudio Vargas.”
Well, no. The real draw was Manny Ramirez, who was returning from his 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy. But Friday also marked Vargas’ first day in uniform after a lengthy stay on the disabled list, followed by a 10-game minor league rehabilitation assignment.
“I got lucky that I came [back] the same day as Manny,” said Vargas, who was expected to compete for a job in the Dodgers’ rotation before developing a sore elbow in spring training.
Now that he’s back, the Dodgers will use Vargas in middle relief, although Manager Joe Torre said he could make a spot start or two.
“I’ve been throwing real good. My arm is good. And I’m ready to go,” said Vargas, a six-year major leaguer who won 23 games for Arizona and Milwaukee in 2006-07. “Whatever they need. I can start, I can relieve. Anything I can do for the team I’m going to do.”
Vargas threw 18 innings on a rehab assignment split between single A and triple A, giving up eight runs but striking out 15 while walking only two.
“I feel like 100% right now,” he said. .
Said Torre: “We’re going to find out.”
To make room for Vargas on the roster, the Dodgers moved pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo, out since April 30 because of a strained elbow, to the 60-day disabled list. But Torre said the move was only procedural and the team is still hoping to get Kuo back this summer.
The left-hander pitched a perfect inning in a minor league game in Arizona on Tuesday, the first time he has pitched in two months.
“Kuo is doing very well,” Torre said. “We’re very excited about that.”
Biding their time
Thursday was the first day major league teams were able to sign eligible Latin American amateurs. And though the day came and went without the Dodgers making a move, General Manager Ned Colletti said it wasn’t for a lack of interest.
“We’re got a lot of things working down there,” he said. “There’s some people we’re interested in. We didn’t use the [signing] date the way some people use it.”
The Cardinals and Yankees both acted quickly, for example, with St. Louis signing power-hitting Dominican outfielder Wagner Mateo for a franchise-record $3.1-million bonus, according to Baseball America, while New York signed three players, including highly touted Dominican catcher Gary Sanchez for $3 million
“A lot of us are just waiting and letting the prices come down,” said Logan White, the Dodgers’ assistant general manager for scouting. “Some agents are way out there with the prices. Some kids that we all like won’t necessarily sign [soon]. Hopefully, we spend our money wisely.”