Gagne sent to minor league camp

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers reassigned right-hander Eric Gagne to minor league camp on Monday morning, apparently eliminating the former Cy Young Award-winning closer from consideration for the Opening Day roster. However, Gagne accepted the assignment willingly and is expected to report to the minor league side on Wednesday.

"He said he knew coming in he had a long way to go,'' Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "We're still looking [at him]. But we have to start lengthening some [other] guys out [with innings], and he understands that part of the scenario. He still has some fire in his belly."

There is precedent for players being sent to the minor league side and still earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. In fact, it happened last spring with rookie reliever Ronald Belisario. But Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he has all but ruled out Gagne as a candidate to start the season with the big league club.

Both Colletti and Torre said it isn't clear at this point whether Gagne would be willing to begin the season pitching in the minor leagues.

"We didn't even talk about that," Torre said. "I don't think there is any deadline to this thing. I just told him ... it may get to a point where he isn't going to get any better and we have to make a decision."

The Dodgers signed Gagne to a minor league contract this winter with the idea that he would come to big league camp and compete for a spot as a middle reliever. The Montreal native spent last season pitching for the Quebec Capitols of the Can-Am League.

"At the beginning, nobody really knew what to expect," Colletti said. "It was a long shot, but we wanted to take the opportunity to see what he had. ... Just watching him throw on the side, he needs more arm strength and a better feel for his offspeed stuff."

Gagne won the National League Cy Young for the Dodgers in 2003, when he converted all 55 of his save opportunities and became the most dominating closer in team history.

That season was part of a streak of 84 consecutive saves for the right-hander, who left the team as a free agent in the fall of 2006 after injuries limited him to 16 appearances over his final two seasons with the club. Gagne's name appeared in the Mitchell report the following winter, and earlier this spring, he admitted to having used HGH.

Gagne had been roughed up in all three of his Cactus League outings this spring, although he said after his most recent outing on Saturday against Arizona that he had been feeling good on the mound.

Gagne was given the day off after being told of the decision, and he left the complex before the media was made aware of the move.

"We all know what he accomplished in L.A., and one of my regrets is that I have seen him pitch two innings [in 2006] since I have been here," Colletti said. "He was a great guy to have at the end of a game, one of the best closers in baseball and at that time, the best closer in baseball."

In other moves, the Dodgers optioned left-hander Scott Elbert to the minors, reassigned non-roster pitcher Scott Dohmann and non-roster position players Michael Restovich and John Lindsey to minor league camp and sold Rule 5 reliever Armando Zerpa back to the Boston Red Sox. There are now 54 players in big league camp, not counting Belisario, who has yet to be allowed to enter the U.S. from his native Venezuela because of visa problems.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.