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Doing a Vulcan mind-meld with Joe Torre on decision to start Vicente Padilla

March 25, 2010 |  2:50 pm
I just pulled a name out of a hat and it came up Clayton Kershaw!

Worked for me. Worked for Joe Torre, too, although his little piece of paper read: Vicente Padilla.

At first blush, a curious choice to be his opening-day starter. Padilla’s been a Dodger only a little longer than Garret Anderson, so it had zero to do with seniority.

Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda have been starting for the Dodgers at least two years. Padilla got in two months last season. Two months after simply being released by Texas.

They were two excellent months, of course. Two unbeaten months (4-0, 3.20 ERA).

Likely that only partially explains Torre’s choice, however. Assuming it can be explained. And assuming is going to be required here.

The rotation is set up in this order: Padilla, Kershaw, Billingsley, Kuroda and a fifth starter to be named.

"Am I saying [Padilla’s] better than the other guys? I'm not saying that," Torre said. "We decided to line them up that way. But the fact [is] that we don't have a No. 1, we have four guys who have pitched important games for us. We just had to line them up some way, and we just decided to do it this way."

Apparently Torre would like to think he has four No. 2 pitchers. Time will tell on that one. What everyone agrees on is, he doesn’t have a proven No. 1. And he did have to pick someone.

Here are the arguments for and against each.

For Padilla: The team’s best pitcher since he showed up. A nine-year veteran who won’t be intimidated by the hoopla of opening day. Has won 14 or more games four times in his career. Against: Hasn’t put in his time as a Dodger. Been so-so this spring (4.50 ERA). Wore out welcome in Texas.

For Kershaw: Staff’s rising star. Had a 2.79 ERA last season and struck out 185 in 171 innings. Best candidate to become an ace, so make him think he’s one right now. Against: He just turned 22. Let him mature at a natural pace. No need to add the extra pressure of opening day. Needs to cut down walks (91).

For Billingsley: Was an All-Star last season. Beginning his fourth season with the Dodgers. When he’s on, is a top pitcher. Plus, he’s earned it. Against: Went 3-7 with a 5.20 ERA after the All-Star break. Some question mental toughness, so why bring the pressure of an opening-day assignment?

For Kuroda: Has done it before (last season). Proven veteran. Came back from a frightening episode in which he took a line drive to the head. Looking sharp in recent spring outings.  Against: Not a lot, really. Has to prove he’s fully overcome head and ensuing neck injury. He’s 35 and not exactly the future.

"We have four guys where I think you can put their names in a hat and just take it out," Torre said.

And out came Padilla.

Long-term, of course, it probably doesn’t make a bit of difference. Still, it is an honor. An honor that could have gone to any of the four.

-- Steve Dilbeck