Dodgers' depth being tested early
LOS ANGELES -- As the old adage goes, a team can never have enough pitching, and the Dodgers are finding that out after a sudden wave of injuries to their starting rotation.
Going into the season, the Dodgers seemed to be sitting pretty with a solid five-man rotation, two would-be starters in the bullpen and another, Ted Lilly, rehabbing a surgically repaired shoulder but on the way. To get that much depth, in the offseason they paid $147 million on free agent Zach Greinke and another $36 million on Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The Dodgers felt so flush that general manager Ned Colletti dealt veteran pitcher Aaron Harang to the Rockies earlier in the month before he even made a regular-season appearance.
But those are the best laid plans of mice and men. That margin is now gone and the Dodgers can ill afford another pitching injury, even though with an upcoming off-day they won't need their fifth starter again until April 24 against the Mets in New York.
"Ned's a very smart man," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "[So is] Stan [Kasten] and the [ownership] group. As a manager, I think it's your job to worry about everything. But we're fortunate that we had that kind of excess of starters. At least we're in a position where we have a guy like Ted, who's working his way back."
Still, in a matter of five days, the Dodgers have lost two starters: Greinke for two months with a broken collar bone suffered during a benches-cleared incident on Thursday in San Diego. And on Tuesday night, Mattingly had to lift Chris Capuano when he strained his left calf covering first base on a play that ended the second inning of their 9-2 loss to the Padres at Dodger Stadium.
Capuano was filling in for Greinke, which may make anyone leery of pitching in that hexed slot. Lilly, the left-hander recovering from labrum surgery in his pitching shoulder, is next up. He threw a rehab start on Tuesday night for Rancho Cucamonga at Lake Elsinore, allowing seven hits and four runs in five innings, but deemed ready to return to the Majors by assistant pitching coach Ken Howell, who was on hand for the start.
It's not as if Capuano was stellar on Tuesday before he was hurt. He was pelted for five hits and five runs by the suddenly storming Padres. Capuano gamely tried to start the third inning and was yanked after he walked Jesus Guzman, the leadoff hitter. A warm-up toss with everyone except Colletti standing around the mound proved to be futile.
"It's a little sore," Capuano said about the injury. "A strain, but not a full tear or anything like that. I'll get an MRI Thursday to see the severity. I don't anticipate it will be too long to heal. They have good treatments now that can jump-start the healing and I hope I can bounce back quickly."
That leaves a rotation with Clayton Kershaw going for his 1,000th career strikeout here on Wednesday night, Ryu, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley, who is being watching closely because of ligament problems in his right elbow that almost led to Tommy John surgery at the end of last season.
The rotation, which was perceived to be a strength, is now being tested only 14 games into this young season. The Dodgers, incidentally, are 7-7.
If Capuano has to go on the 15-day disabled list the Dodgers are going to need another pitcher in the bullpen until that fifth slot spins around again against the Mets.
"We'll talk about it tonight," Mattingly said. "Ned was in my office before I came in. We'll talk about what we want to do. We're eight days away from needing a starter. It's always nice to have an extra arm as you talk off the top of your head. Then we have to work through the roster."
It's not as if this hasn't happened before. Last year, the Rangers went into the season with seven starters on their staff. Injuries to Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis made that depth moot. Texas was forced along the course of the long season to go out and get Roy Oswalt and Ryan Dempster, who were a combined 11-6 in 21 starts.
By the end of the season, the Rangers had at least 10 pitchers make at least one start. And it was Dempster who was on the mound in Oakland on the final day of the season when the Rangers blew a 5-1 lead and lost the American League West title to the A's. Dempster is now pitching for the Red Sox.
Of course, it is a little early for the Dodgers to begin to foresee those kind of problems. Most clubs aren't composed anyway with that kind of depth. But the Dodgers have a player payroll that will top off at $230 million and are supposedly built to withstand a rash of pitching injuries. To a point.
"[For Capuano], even if it's a strain it's not going to be an extended period of time," Mattingly said. "It's not going to be four or five weeks. It's not going to be anything extended."
At least that's the hope -- for now.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.