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Dodgers' bullpen yet to come into clear focus

March 23, 2011 | 11:35 am

It looked like a closed shop. All polished and refitted, the Dodgers bullpen seemed without vacancy.

After a disappointing 2010 (4.07 ERA, 1.35 WHIP), the relief corps entered the spring with every position seemingly spoken for.

Then down went Vicente Padilla. And off to the Venezuelan never-never land remained Ronald Belisario.

Suddenly there were two open spots. Still, there seemed a reasonable wealth of capable arms in the wings. Anyway, it kinda seemed that way.

Now the Dodgers are five days from breaking camp, and easy answers to fill the bullpen void are still hard to come by.

When camp opened, the bullpen seemed set with Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Kenley Jansen, Matt Guerrier, Blake Hawksworth, Padilla and Belisario. The only mini-suspense was supposed to be if Hawksworth could hold off left-handers Scott Elbert or Ron Mahay for the final spot.

Hawksworth, who is out of options, seems secure. But those other two spots? Check in daily.

Early on Ramon Troncoso looked like he might be returning to his 2009 form. He did not allow a run in his first four appearances, causing newbie Dodger Talk co-host Joe Block to declare he had made the team.

Yet more evidence against putting much stock into early spring results. In the four innings of Troncoso’s next four games, he gave up six runs (13.50 ERA). His overall spring ERA is now 6.23 and he’s far from a lock to be in Dodger Stadium on opening day.

The one reliever who has stepped up is veteran Mike MacDougal, unscored upon in eight appearances (7 1/3 innings). His ability was never questioned, but his control was an on-going issue. He has allowed only three hits and four walks.

If he continues anywhere near this pace, it’s hard to see MacDougal failing to make the final 25-man. Final, meaning until three days into the season when someone gets hurt.

The Dodgers would still prefer -- or anyway, should prefer -- the final spot go to a second left-hander to complement Kuo. Mahay, however, has struggled (10.70 ERA). Which once again, takes the Dodgers back to Elbert.

For several reasons, the Dodgers would very much like the former first-round pick to make the team, but they aren’t about to give it to him after his disappointing act last season. And Elbert has continued to have control problems.

But he might be forging a modest comeback. Tuesday with runners on the corners and the Dodgers leading the Cubs 1-0 in the seventh, they brought in Elbert with two outs. After falling behind 2-0 to Tyler Clovin, he came back to strike him out.

The only other candidate keeping himself in serious contention is Lance Cormier, who after giving up solo runs in his first two spring outings, hasn’t allowed a run in his last four appearances.

Elbert, Cormier, Troncoso? Opening day is March 31, and relievers are running out of time to make their case. And again close the shop.

-- Steve Dilbeck

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