Notes: Schmidt not pleased with spring
Command issues early in count resurface in latest start
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- While the focus has been on the Dodgers' fifth starter competition, it was the third starter who struggled again Thursday night.
Jason Schmidt, their $47 million free-agent signing, was charged with three runs and made enough pitches to last only four innings in a 6-3 split-squad win over Washington. Over the first two innings, he started almost every batter with a ball.
"More than I want to accept," he said of the ball-one counts. "The last two innings I had more first strikes, but I'm not comfortable delivery-wise. When you get out in a game and you experiment, you get in your head what works and what doesn't. Today, I wanted to get guys out. The last couple innings it happened more, but I'm not quite where I want to be. I'm a work in progress."
Four starts into Spring Training, the work in progress has a 6.55 ERA. Schmidt has been through enough Spring Trainings not to panic, but he's not pleased with things, either.
"Spring Training is a funny thing from a command standpoint, it's hit or miss," he said. "I'm not where I want to be, but there's plenty of time to get there. I don't feel bad. It just takes a long time to get things going. I'm always a slow starter in the first inning until I get a rhythm going. Right now, being a slow starter isn't beneficial."
Hendrickson's bid: Mark Hendrickson either bolstered his candidacy for the fifth-starter job with five scoreless innings against the Cardinals in a day game Thursday won by the Dodgers, 3-2, or he showcased to any club that might want to trade for him that he can shut down the World Series champions (OK, Albert Pujols didn't play).
Either way, Hendrickson is focused on being a starting pitcher. The assumption is that the Dodgers will go to either Brett Tomko or Hong-Chih Kuo and not Hendrickson, who lost his starting job last August. But he's determined to win it back this spring and, having worked with a sports psychologist that helped him get back on track last September, is shutting out the speculation about his chances and just pitching.
"Other than hearing from a family member or friend who reads something, I'm not reading about it or putting an emphasis on it," he said of the competition for the job. "I'm preparing myself with the mentality that I'm a starter and that's the way I'm approaching this spring. Occasionally, I'll read a headline. But mostly I stay away from it and focus pitching-wise."
Hendrickson said he felt some fatigue in the later innings Thursday, although he allowed only three hits, two of them bloop doubles. He struck out two and walked one, lowering his spring ERA from 8.10 to 4.63.
And he wasn't spending time fretting over management's decision or whether it's already been made.
"I just control what I can control and execute my pitches," he said. "This Spring Training, and from the end of last season when I went to the bullpen, that's what my focus is on. It's a good mentality for me to have. My mind is set to prepare as a starter until I hear otherwise. I've been pretty happy with the progress this spring." Manager Grady Little praised Hendrickson, but was non-committal on how the outing would impact his decision on the competition for the fifth starter.
"He was good. He mixed his pitches well," Little said. "This is what competition is all about. No doubt, whoever we pick for the fifth at the outset of the season, there will be plenty of places for the other guys to pitch. They've all done well."
Opener update: In addition to Hendrickson's pitching, the Dodgers had three hits and an RBI from Juan Pierre and a pair of hits from Tony Abreu, James Loney and Matt Kemp. Defensively, Andre Ethier threw a runner out at the plate from right field.
Non-roster left-hander Matt White allowed an unearned run and has not allowed an earned run in 6 1/3 innings this spring. Greg Miller was wild in two innings (two walks, one hit batter), but did not allow a run.
Nightcap update: Luis Gonzalez, Nomar Garciaparra and Wilson Valdez homered in the win over Washington. Valdez is out of options, but is making a run at Ramon Martinez's utility job. He showed the ability to play center field Thursday night, which could be pivotal if Jason Repko is out an extended time with a groin strain. He is reported to be progressing, but there is no date for his return.
Elmer Dessens, whose role as long reliever could be threatened by Chad Billingsley's move to the bullpen, continued his solid spring with two scoreless innings, lowering his ERA to 1.29 in seven innings.
Anderson is back: Marlon Anderson played his first game of the spring at designated hitter and will start Friday at second base. Anderson had a setback recovering from elbow surgery, but said he's rebounded.
"Physically, I feel great," he said. "Everything's good right now. I took infield today, I'm throwing OK. I'm getting back into the baseball mentality."
Billingsley's reaction: Billingsley, who threw two scoreless innings in his first appearance since learning he would pitch out of the bullpen this season, said he accepts the assignment as a learning experience.
"Pitching out of the bullpen in the playoffs was pretty successful and no one can tell, but I hope I do what I did last year," said the 22-year-old. "I hope my arm can adjust to it, pitching an inning and coming back the next day, warming up quick. I have to get adapted to relieving, but at 22, I'm just happy to be here."
Larker dies: Former Dodgers outfielder and first baseman Norm Larker passed away this week at the age of 76. Larker played in 437 games for the Dodgers from 1958-1961 and collected three hits in the 1959 World Series. The Pennsylvania native finished second in the 1960 NL batting race -- hitting .323, just behind Pittsburgh's Dick Groat .325 -- and was named to the All-Star team that year. Funeral services will be Friday at St. Cyprian's Church (5133 E. Arbor Rd., Long Beach, CA 90808, 562-420-6885).
Best excursion: That award for Wednesday's day off goes to four players who went shark fishing off the Florida Keys. Andy LaRoche and a high school friend landed six in one boat. Brad Penny, Delwyn Young and Kemp hooked several in another boat, but couldn't reel them in.
Coming up: Instead of starting Penny on Friday against Boston Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Dodgers will have Penny throw in a Minor League intrasquad game and will hand the ball to Kuo, who will make his first start of the spring in the 10:05 a.m. PT start at Dodgertown. Kuo has allowed only one run in six innings, but he's also walked six with two strikeouts.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.