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Dodgers happy to be entering world of zeroes

March 16, 2010 |  7:06 am
And now for the most intriguing number of spring … 0.00.

The Dodgers aren’t halfway through their spring schedule, but the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation is already getting interesting.

Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz, Carlos Monasterios and Eric Stults have yet to allow an earned run this preseason. All sport 0.00 ERAs.

Yes, it’s early. It’s spring training and not the stretch drive. A pitching performance in March doesn’t always translate to one in July, or even April.

But aside from the early struggles of James McDonald (six earned runs in the four innings of his two appearances), things are going better than the Dodgers had a right to expect.

There is only one job in the rotation open now, but that’s always subject to change during the course of a season. With Hiroki Kuroda nursing a neck injury and the Dodgers uncertain what to expect over the course of a full season from Vicente Padilla, it would benefit the team to discover more than one potential starter.

They took what-do-we-have-to-lose fliers on the Ortiz boys, and picked up Monasterios in the Rule 5 draft. At the moment, they’re all paying off.

Then there’s Stults and Charlie Haeger, both of whom are out of options. If they’re not on the 25-man roster, they can become free agents. If Monasterios doesn’t make it, he has to be offered back to Philadelphia.

Neither Ortiz seems to know if their agents negotiated an opt-out clause that would enable them to become free agents if they don’t make the 25-man roster. Last year, Jeff Weaver did not have one and, despite a strong spring, started the season in the minors. This year Weaver does have the option.

Ramon Ortiz, 36, has probably been the biggest surprise thus far. The ex-Angel hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2007, and his four seasons prior to that were completely unimpressive.

Yet his four shutout innings against the Angels on Monday left him with these spring numbers: nine innings, zero runs, 11 strikeouts, five hits and two walks.

"He was pretty good, especially against his old team," said Joe Torre. "He kept the ball down and mixed his pitches. Russ Ortiz is also making a statement for himself."

Russ Ortiz won 21 games for the Braves in 2003, but has bounced around four different teams the last four years, going a combined 10-28 with a 6.56 ERA.

But for the moment, his ball appears to be moving again. In five spring innings, he’s yet to allow a run or give up a walk.

Monasterios also hasn’t given up a run in his five innings, allowing only two hits. Stults, considered a slight favorite before the spring began, did not allow a hit in his two innings before leaving to join the Dodgers contingent in Taiwan.

Someone is going to blink. Stults may yet win out, but either or both Ortizes would be welcomed depth in the minors if willing to go down.

For the moment, though, General Manager Ned Colletti doesn’t have to be too worried about trading for, or signing, a fifth starter.

-- Steve Dilbeck