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Dodgers face plenty of rotation questions in final week of spring

Dodgers face plenty of rotation questions in final week of spring
Dodgers right-hander Brandon McCarthy seems almost a lock to earn one of the final two rotation spots, but Manager Dave Roberts is noncommittal. (Matt York / Associated Press) (Matt York / AP)

In four days, the Dodgers will leave Camelback Ranch and return to Los Angeles. Across that 96-hour period, the team hopes to finalize the composition of its starting rotation. After spending all spring looking to fill two spots, Manager Dave Roberts insisted on Saturday morning that the competition remained open to Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Alex Wood and Scott Kazmir.

"It's still to be determined," Roberts said.

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McCarthy appears close to a lock to secure one opening, but Roberts stopped short of committing to him. And while Kazmir appears unlikely to break camp with the club, he will be given an audition Sunday afternoon against Texas. McCarthy will pitch in a simulated game Sunday, too.

So Kazmir, despite a spring marred by discomfort with his body and his delivery, could crash the competition between Ryu and Wood for the final spot. Kazmir's fastball was clocked at 87 mph during a minor league outing earlier this week.

Ryu will make his final Cactus League start Monday. He has allowed one run in nine innings against big league competition, including a solid sour-inning outing against Milwaukee last Tuesday. Ryu can refuse any assignment to the minors or extended spring training, so if he is healthy it will be difficult for the team not to carry him on the roster.

When camp began, it was difficult to predict how Ryu would perform. He had pitched in one game during the previous two seasons after shoulder surgery in 2015. He struggled to produce useful fastball velocity and experienced significant discomfort after his outings. Ryu has been able to avoid similar issues this spring.

That means Monday will be a somewhat significant test for him. He will be asked to throw five innings against the Chicago White Sox. During his rehab outings in 2016, Ryu often failed to maintain velocity deep into games.

If Ryu makes the club, Wood probably will likely be punished for his youth and flexibility. The team holds minor league options on Wood, so he could be shipped to triple-A Oklahoma City to stay ready in case someone in the rotation experiences an injury. Or he could make the big league club as a reliever, which might backfire if the team needed a starter in an emergency, and Wood was no longer stretched out.

Wood has had a solid spring. He has struck out 11 batters in 11 1/3 innings with a 3.18 earned-run average. Wood underwent elbow surgery last summer, but hurried back so he could aid the team as a reliever in October. He has expressed confidence about his ability to return to the rotation this season.

Wood will get that chance at some point this season. But it may not be at the outset. The next four days will help determine his fate.

Ethier ruled out for opening day

After meeting with back specialist Robert Watkins, Andre Ethier will avoid baseball activity until the first week of April as the team waits for the herniated disk in his lower back to heal, Roberts said. There is not yet a timetable for his return.

Ethier received a painkilling epidural injection on Monday. Roberts said the team had not discussed the possibility of surgery.

"I think it's actually a good sign," Roberts said. "It's not a six-to-eight-week thing, from what I understand. Him taking another week to let it subside, we'll have a better idea of how aggressive we need to be."

Seager feels 'baseball sore'

Initially scheduled to play seven innings in a minor league game, shortstop Corey Seager lasted four innings in the field and took five at-bats against Cleveland farmhands. The assignment was shortened because Seager felt soreness in his legs and feet, "baseball sore," he said, that was unrelated to the stiffness in his oblique muscle.

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Seager expected to take Sunday off and then return to the minor league side for a game Monday. He hoped to increase the volume of his at-bats, and sounded displeased with their quality on Saturday. "Holy moly," he said.

With Seager still marooned on the minors, he may not get a chance to play in the Cactus League again alongside new second baseman Logan Forsythe.

Romo returns to action

Sergio Romo pitched in a game for the first time since returning from the World Baseball Classic. He secured three quick outs against Oakland.

Romo had been dealing with stiffness in his back, which cropped up after he flew to Phoenix from Guadalajara. He indicated the discomfort has passed, which left him encouraged about his outing Saturday.

"I feel good physically," Romo said. "That was more of a concern going into the last couple days when I threw bullpens. Just because I wasn't good, period. Now I feel fine. I feel loose, limber."

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes

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