GLENDALE, Ariz. -- In a move that was surprising only in its timing -- it happened on the team's only off-day of spring training -- the Los Angeles Dodgers designated reliever Ramon Troncoso for assignment and activated reliever Ronald Belisario from the restricted list, where he had been for more than a year after failing to report to spring training last season because he couldn't secure a visa to enter the U.S. from his native Venezuela.
Belisario still must serve a 25-game suspension that will begin on opening day before he is eligible to pitch for the Dodgers during the regular season, a consequence of a drug test Belisario said earlier this spring was positive for cocaine use.
The Dodgers have 10 days to either trade Troncoso, release him or outright him to the minors, but he must pass through waivers unclaimed before they can do any of those things.
The move is the strongest indication yet that the battle for the final spot in the Dodgers bullpen -- a spot that is open only because Blake Hawksworth is expected to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list after undergoing two surgical procedures on his right elbow over the winter -- probably has become a two-man race between major league veterans Jamey Wright, a right-hander, and Jon Grabow, a lefty, both of whom are in camp as non-roster invitees.
Troncoso had been a competitor for that spot, but he gave up three runs and eight hits over five innings in his five Cactus League appearances.
Troncoso, 29, once was a mainstay in the Dodgers bullpen, his career reaching its peak in his first full season in the majors, when he posted a 2.72 ERA in 2009 while making a staggering 73 appearances under then-Dodgers manager Joe Torre. The next year, part of which Troncoso spent at Triple-A Albuquerque, his ERA jumped to 4.33. In 2011, he made just 18 major league appearances and posted a 6.75 ERA.
Troncoso is out of minor league options, meaning he can't be sent to the minors while still on the 40-man roster.
Belisario, 29, contended when revealing he had tested positive for cocaine that he used the drug only once. He last pitched for the Dodgers in 2010, when he posted a 5.04 ERA in 59 appearances after having put up a 2.04 ERA in 69 games as a rookie in 2009.
He missed a month of the 2010 season for a reason he never gave publicly, although it was reported at the time he was undergoing treatment for some type of substance abuse. He also was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Pasadena during the 2009 season, which was the reason he had difficulty obtaining a visa the following spring.
Belisario denied earlier this spring that he currently has a substance-abuse problem, saying, "I don't have a problem with any drugs. It was a one-time thing."