Dodgers Fifth Starting Spot Competition a Reality

Originally posted on LAist on March 2, 2010

Like I said in my piece last week about Frank McCourt, I don’t fault him for trying make as money as he can so long as he doesn’t compromise the quality of the Dodgers in the process. So here I present the best way to squeeze money out of the usual serenity of spring training: “So You Want to Pitch for the Dodgers.”

The Dallas Cowboys do it with their cheerleaders. One NFL team allows HBO cameras into their training camp. So why don’t the Dodgers take the initiative to broadcast their competition for the fifth spot in the starting pitching rotation?

In a show that airs weekly a highly truncated version of a game pitched by the contender will be aired along with some of the levity and drama surrounding the Dodgers in Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona. There can be cameos from former Dodgers such as Sandy Koufax, Sweet Lou Johnson, the irrepressible Tommy Lasorda. And there can also be appearances by stars such as Alyssa Milano, George Lopez and the plumber guy from “Desperate Housewives.”

Of course there will be the cast of pitchers:

James McDonald. The 25-year old won the competition last season and promptly rode the momentum to an 8.16 ERA giving up 13 runs on 14 1/3 innings. Once he was demoted back down as a reliever after his fourth start on April 30, he had a 2.77 ERA the remainder of the season reverting back into the pitcher we knew he was. Now that he’s a year older, will he have the mental strength to win the job again and keep it?

Eric Stults. The 31-year old was drafted by the Dodgers in the 15th round of the 2002 amateur draft and has been a mainstay in the minor leagues. Like a groundhog he would appear in the big league club when an injury arose having alternately great performances and some forgettable outings. On May 9 last season, Stults got a four-hit complete game shutout against the San Francisco Giants. Later that month at Wrigley Field against the Cubs he pitched three innings giving up four runs in a 7-0 Dodger loss. In the offseason he talked with sports psychologist Dana Sinclair to work on his mental approach to the game and stay aggressive.

Charlie Haeger. The knuckleballer who captured the imagination of every Dodgers blogger last season finally saw the light of day. Even those of us who covered the Dodgers were wrapped up with him going so far as to discuss with catcher Brad Ausmus the art of catching a knuckleballer. In his second start against the Cubs, he threw 110 pitches in seven innings of three-hit shutout ball. As no one can predict the trajectory of a knuckleball, so no one can predict the way a knuckleballer will perform. In his next start the Cincinnati Reds shellacked him with four runs on four hits in just 2 1/3 innings.

Russ Ortiz. Known best as the starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants in game seven of the 2002 World Series against the then Anaheim Angels, the Encino native has fallen on hard times since having the Tommy John surgery in 2007 missing the entire 2008 season. Trying to get his career restarted last season with the Houston Astros, New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies, he couldn’t get anything going.

Ramon Ortiz. No relation to Russ, he was also in the 2002 World Series except as a winning pitcher in game three for the Angels. After getting a career high 16 victories in 2003, he was traded to Cincinnati when things started head south. In 2008 he was playing in Japan where he went 4-7 with a 5.82 ERA. Last season he spent the entire season with AAA Fresno Grizzlies.

Josh Towers. After having an excellent 2005 season for the Toronto Blue Jays after ace Roy Halladay went down with a broken leg, he followed it up in 2006 going 0-7 with a 10.09 ERA. As with the last two pitchers highlighted here, Towers is looking to rejuvenate his career with the Dodgers.

Carlos Monasterios. I don’t know anything about this cat except that he’s a Rule 5 draft pick from the Philadelphia Phillies. That means he needs to be on the Dodgers active 25-man roster or else be offered back to the Phillies.

Also cut into the program will be clips of the Dodgers experience in Taiwan. Manny Ramirez cuts it up with the bewildered locals! Hong-Chih Kuo and Chin-Lung Hu come back home! Will James Loney start cussing in Mandarin like Matt Kemp did in Beijing in 2008?

Now after going through spring training highlighting these pitchers’ performances, once the Dodgers get back to Dodger Stadium for the end of the exhibition season they set up a dais with general manager Ned Colletti, manager Joe Torre, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and owner Frank McCourt. Before them would stand the contending pitchers with the camera panning to each of them standing in their uniforms nervously waiting for the verdict.

After several commercial breaks – we do have to generate revenue and fill time – McCourt finally hands the winner not a rose but a golden baseball. The camera will then pan to the disappointed pitchers, tears welling in their eyes knowing they will either be relegated to the bullpen or worse sent to AAA Albuquerque and their stale PB&Js.

I think this is a brilliant idea, and it would make McCourt look like a genius especially if he does this before the Yankees or Red Sox get their grubby hands on it. Like I said, I’m only here to help McCourt’s goal in owning an English Premier League club.