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Dodgers bullpen still has questions

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- As March has given way to April and as April days tick away toward Opening Day, the bullpen remains one of the unsettled orders of business for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That is why Thursday’s first Freeway Series game against the Los Angeles Angels became an important exhibition for those relievers competing for a roster spot. It was dubbed a “bullpen game” because a starter did not appear in it, and it was one of the final times the team’s decision makers could get a live look at their bullpen options before the 25-man roster has to be turned in by noon PT Sunday.

In all, eight Dodger pitchers made appearances in their 3-2 loss to the Angels.

“You really just want to see guys work,” manager Don Mattingly said. “We get our answers every day. Now it’s just a matter of making decisions.”

Sergio Santos started the game, but if the Dodgers were hoping he might be one of the guys to fill in at closer in Kenley Jansen’s absence, he continued to disappoint. Santos was signed as a free agent in December and is one of the few bullpen options with closer experience, saving 30 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011 while striking out 13.1 hitters per nine innings. But his spring has been up and down.

Santos, 31, started with four scoreless innings in which he allowed one hit and struck out four. But since then he has allowed five runs and two home runs in 5 ⅔ innings. He allowed another Thursday when reigning American League MVP Mike Trout smoked an opposite-field homer in the first inning.

While Santos has shown flashes of effectiveness, he has not been nearly consistent enough to trust in late-inning, high-leverage situations once the regular season starts. Not only that, but the so-so performances leave him on the fringe of making the Opening Day roster at all.

Of the guys who have been impressive and are challenging the team to put them on the roster, Adam Liberatore pitched another scoreless inning Thursday while striking out two. That brought his spring totals to 9 ⅔ innings without allowing a run and eight strikeouts.

The problem with Liberatore’s candidacy is he would be a third left-hander -- J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez, who both pitched scoreless innings Thursday, are expected to be the first two lefties in the pen -- and he has an option, so he can be sent back to Triple-A Oklahoma City without going through waivers. If he does not make the club and continues to pitch well in the minors once the season starts, he has at least given the team confidence that he can return and handle major league hitters.

Mattingly also says 27-year-old right-hander Pedro Baez remains an option, and he also pitched a scoreless inning against the Angels. He too has options, which could land him back in the minors.