Torre faces tough decisions with roster
Manager must weigh performance, matchups for each foe
LOS ANGELES -- Joe Torre has been in this spot the previous 13 years, so he knows the drill. He's mulling over decisions for a postseason roster that will leave a few of his players snubbed.
It's part of the job and, as he said, there's no room for sentimentality. There's also no hurry to make the decisions.
"We're laboring over them, and we don't play until Wednesday, so we don't need to get them in until Tuesday, and we're going to use every minute of the time we have and hope we make the right decision," the Dodgers manager said. "And to make it more complicated, we have six qualified starting pitchers and we only need four. We have choices of how many to have on the roster and in the bullpen."
Torre said he can't remember having six established starters, that number swelled by mid-season with the acquisitions of Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland, who bolstered a rotation nucleus of Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda and Chad Billingsley.
The general assumption is that Wolf, Kershaw and Kuroda will be his first three starters, the order dependent on how quickly Kuroda's stiff neck loosens. Going a step further, Billingsley would probably be included if the Dodgers open against St. Louis, as they probably will.
In the postseason last year, Torre kept 11 pitchers. If he does that again, there might not be room for some combination of Garland, Jeff Weaver, James McDonald and Guillermo Mota. The bullpen, from the back end, should include Jonathan Broxton, George Sherill, Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario. Ramon Troncoso was a key part of the bullpen this year, but Torre values matchups and the Cardinals hit him hard in one appearance against them this year, so his security is unclear.
"In October, it's all about the pitching," said Torre. "For controlling the game, with Kuo, Sherrill and Broxton, we have no hesitation there. We're inexperienced in the middle with McDonald, Belisario [and] Troncoso, but they've all been good. Weaver has experience in the World Series with the Cardinals. We have to figure out how many to take."
This week, Torre has made positive comments about rookie Scott Elbert as a third left-handed reliever and the veteran Padilla, who passed a test coming out of the bullpen Wednesday night for the first time since the 2001 season. Elbert is more likely to be included against a club like Philadelphia, with left-handed power hitters.
Against a team with right-handed sluggers like St. Louis, Torre might want Padilla and Weaver for long relief over McDonald because of their experience. The Cardinals are hitting only .200 off Weaver this season. Mota gave the Dodgers two amazing months in the middle of the season, but has been brushed aside late in the year. Garland might have sealed his fate with a poor start Wednesday night.
"I remember Graeme Lloyd being a tough decision for me in 1996," Torre said of the left-handed reliever. "He talked me into taking him and I'm glad he did because he got [Ryan] Klesko out every time [in the '96 World Series]. A lot of it is makeup, and experience is important. Sometimes stats are a little overrated. And I've left guys off one series and put them back on the next series. We'll probably leave people off that have been part of this for awhile."
Torre's position-player cuts could be dictated by nagging injuries to third baseman Casey Blake (hamstring) and utility man Ronnie Belliard (groin). They are further complicated by the presence of Jim Thome, a threatening left-handed bat off the bench, but unable to run or play the field. Thome's presence probably squeezes Doug Mientkiewicz off the postseason roster, and there's no guarantee Mark Loretta will make it, either, because Torre is likely to keep Juan Castro for defensive purposes.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.