No. 5 Starter Watch: Dodgers (and Haeger!)

This news wasn't as good as I'd hoped, upon clicking on a link in a tweet. Via ESPN Los Angeles' Jon Weisman, Joe Torre's Saturday morning quotes:

    "Physically guys are ready, mentally it's tough to remind yourself these games are important. We still have decisions to make not just at second base but the pitching staff as well.

    "[Charlie] Haeger could go five or six today, we're not concerned about building up his endurance. He's done a good job and handled everything we've thrown at him. He can dominate a game when that thing's working. He talked with Charlie Hough about how to pitch in certain environments. Florida should be fine, he said he enjoys pitching indoors too.

    "We've got to figure out our starters and figure it out from there ...

Well, I wouldn't say that Haeger's been anointed yet. The top four are set and No. 5 candidate James McDonald has been demoted already (thanks a lot, mechanical adjustment!), but that still leaves Haeger, Eric Stults, Carlos Monasterios, and (gulp) the two Ortizes, Ramon and Russ.

Stults hasn't pitched well in his two spring starts, and there's talk of trading him. But Haeger hasn't exactly been lights-out, either. Meanwhile, Monasterios and both (improbably enough) both Ortizes have pitched exceptionally well.

My guess is that Monasterios winds up in the bullpen, because 1) he's got exactly seven and one-third innings of professional experience above Class A, but 2) he's a Rule 5 guy, so the Dodgers can't send him to the minors without offering him back to the Phillies.

So that leaves Russ and Ramon, the latter of whom has struck out 19 hitters and walked only four in 14 innings. Of course, he's the same guy who got hammered in Japan in 2008 and pitched in the Pacific Coast League last season, and pitched well but never got the call from the Giants. Same guy whose ERA was 5.47 over his last three seasons in the majors (2005-2007).

I'd take my chances with Haeger, but then I'm not exactly objective on this subject.

Who's the last non-Wakefield knuckleballer to break camp with a spot in the starting rotation? Probably Steve Sparks, who started the Diamondbacks' fifth game in 2004 (and came out of the bullpen for two innings just four days later). Sparks held that No. 5 slot until late July, when he lost it to rookie Lance Cormier (who lost it, two weeks later, to Steve Randolph).

Here's what I like about Charlie Haeger: as knuckleballers go, he's still a baby. Sparks was nearly 30 when he reached the majors. Dennis Springer was 30. Jared Fernandez was 29. Haeger reached the majors at 22. Granted, that was four years ago and he's still looking to earn his first extended shot. Considering his relative youth and his Triple-A numbers, I like his chances. But managers of contending teams don't typically have a great deal of patience, and Haeger might not pitch 200 innings in a season until he finds a lousy team.