It’s starting to look bad for these Dodgers pitchers
Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano could make almost any team’s rotation. With a couple of more tuneup starts, Ted Lilly probably could too.
But the three veteran pitchers aren’t on just any team. They are on the Dodgers, whose record $230-million payroll has afforded them the luxury of stockpiling an unprecedented level of pitching depth.
Although the surplus of arms is a source of reassurance for the club, it has hurled Harang, Capuano and Lilly into baseball limbo.
None of them can say with even the slightest degree of certainty the kind of roles they will be performing in, say, August — or, for that matter, for which team they will be performing them.
With the Dodgers unable to trade them before opening day, Harang and Capuano were pushed into the bullpen against their wishes. Neither appeared in the season-opening series against the San Francisco Giants, with Clayton Kershaw (nine innings), Hyun-Jin Ryu (6 1/3) and Josh Beckett (six) making the starts.
“I’ve always been a starter,” Harang said. “I’ve been trying to keep the mentality that I was going to be starting. It’s something I still have to kind of go through right now.”
Meanwhile, Lilly was moved to the 15-day disabled list, which was essentially the Dodgers’ way of legally putting him on the taxi squad.
These are strange places to be for pitchers with their resumes.
Harang, 34, was 10-10 with a 3.61 earned-run average last season. Capuano, also 34, was 12-12 with a 3.72 ERA. Lilly, 37, was 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA until he went down in late May because of a shoulder injury that would require surgery.
All three will be well-compensated this year, with Harang earning $7 million, Capuano $6 million and Lilly $12 million.
Harang and Capuano’s contracts include club options for 2014, which, if declined, could make them free agents at the end of this season. Lilly’s three-year contract will expire this year.
How they are used could significantly affect their values on the free-agent market, as they are likely to be offered less lucrative deals as long relievers than they would as starters. Because of their ages, their next contract could be their last. But each has said he hasn’t asked to be traded.
“It’s not an issue,” Capuano said. “It’s not something I really want to even discuss. To me, that’s a distraction from what we should be focusing on — coming together and winning. Anything outside of that, it’s not my concern right now. It’s out of my hands.”
Capuano’s more immediate concern is adjusting his throwing and workout programs.
“As a starting pitcher, there are certain days you do a lot of long toss or throw a lot of volume or throw a large bullpen,” he said. “As a relief pitcher, basically every day, you play a lot more moderate catch, you try to get off the mound a little more often, even it’s for only five or 10 pitches.”
This isn’t entirely unfamiliar to Capuano, who primarily pitched in relief for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010 after missing two years recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery.
For that reason, Manager Don Mattingly said he is prepared to use Capuano in a variety of roles — as a long reliever or as a situational reliever, at the start of an inning or with men on base.
Mattingly is more concerned about Harang, who has made six relief appearances in a dozen seasons. The only time Harang spent extensive time in the bullpen was with the Cincinnati Reds in 2010, when he returned from an injury, pitched poorly and was pushed into the bullpen. Over a three-week span, he pitched only twice.
Harang fears he could be used sparingly again. Only so many innings are available for long relievers, and he will have to split them with Capuano.
Harang is also concerned about how he takes an unusually long time to warm up before his starts. He has no idea how long it will take it to get loose in the bullpen.
And Mattingly acknowledged he doesn’t yet know how he will use him.
“Aaron is a little bit more, for me, something we’re going to have to learn as we go,” Mattingly said.
Of the three extra starters, Lilly was the only one who expressed a willingness to move to the bullpen.
However, the Dodgers were reluctant to include even two long relievers in their bullpen. They weren’t about to include three, so they put Lilly on the disabled list. Lilly was hesitant about the idea when it was mentioned to him late in spring training. He declined to offer his thoughts on the move this week.
Mattingly justified the transaction by saying Lilly was behind in his throwing program. Lilly is scheduled to pitch Friday for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga as part of a minor league rehabilitation assignment, the first step toward a goal of building up his pitch count to 105.
But even if Lilly gains the necessary arm strength to start, there is unlikely to be a place in the rotation. So what will the Dodgers do with him then?
“Make a decision,” Mattingly said, offering no clarity.
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