Notes: Caution taken with Billingsley
Scheduled start changed to simulated game due to groin pain
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Righty Chad Billingsley was scratched from his scheduled start in the Dodgers' Grapefruit League opener on Thursday as a precautionary measure with a tight left groin muscle and instead will pitch two innings in a Minor League simulated game.
Billingsley said he has a history of groin problems, having missed a 2004 Minor League start and straining it again in 2006. He said he felt it while throwing batting practice last Friday but continued to throw. He shortened Sunday's bullpen session because of the discomfort but hasn't missed a throwing session. He has cut back on fielding practice but was doing outfield sprints on Wednesday, an indication that the extent of the injury was minimal.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre said the Minor League setting will allow Billingsley's arm to get its regular work while limiting other demands.
"It's nothing to worry about -- nothing serious," Billingsley said. "I haven't missed a day of throwing -- I'm just not doing fielding practice. I'm just not going in a game situation where I could become too aggressive. I'll still make 50 pitches."
Billingsley is likely to be the Dodgers' No. 3 starter when the regular season opens. Non-roster pitcher Jason Johnson is scheduled to start in Billingsley's place against the Braves and will be followed by Mike Myers, Tanyon Sturtze and Tom Martin.
Lowe endorses Penny: After tossing two impressive hitless innings during a simulated game against Minor League hitters, Brad Penny was endorsed as Opening Day starter by Derek Lowe, and Torre didn't disagree.
"They haven't said anything, but if I was a guessing man, I'd say Brad would do it, and deservingly so," said Lowe. "He's earned it. I'd vote for him if I had a vote."
The only vote is that of Torre, who seemed to agree when told of Lowe's comment.
"OK, I think that could work," Torre said. "[Penny] is lined up to pitch Opening Day, but we haven't declared that yet. We want to get into the spring and make sure they get what they need and feel good."
Lowe pointed out that the Dodgers are 0-3 when he has started the past three Opening Day games.
"Not very good," Lowe said.
In addition to Lowe, pitchers throwing batting practice included the bulk of the bullpen -- Takashi Saito, Jonathan Broxton, Joe Beimel, Scott Proctor and Rudy Seanez, as well as Eric Stults and Yhency Brazoban. Brazoban, returning from right shoulder surgery, is not far from pitching in a game.
Kershaw impresses: The most impressive of all the pitchers at Holman Stadium on Wednesday was 19-year-old left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who struck out two in one dazzling inning.
"When people ask what it is about him that makes him special, all you can say is, 'Wait 'till you see him,'" said pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. "It's an explosion coming out of that arm. Some guys just set themselves apart. Some people are from this planet, and some are from another planet."
Kershaw, ranked by Baseball America as the No. 7 prospect, was greeted by Torre as he came off the mound.
"He said, 'It was nice to meet you.'" said Kershaw, a first-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. "That was pretty cool. He told me to stay healthy, and I'll have a lot of fun."
Kershaw overwhelmed Class A hitters the first half of last season, found Double-A a bit more challenging after a late-season promotion and expects to return to Double-A Jacksonville to start the 2008 season.
"I didn't dominate at Jacksonville -- I had a couple bad outings and only five starts, so that's where I'll probably go," Kershaw said. "I've got work to do."
As impressive as Kershaw can be at times, he walked 67 batters in 122 innings last year and will need to improve his command before he's Major League-ready.
Other Dodgers rated by Baseball America were Andy LaRoche (31), Chin-lung Hu (55) and Scott Elbert (88).
Schmidt fatigued: "Fatigued" is the word Torre used to describe the way Jason Schmidt felt during his Tuesday bullpen session, although the manager stressed that it's a normal phase of a lengthy rehabilitation.
"It's not backward, it's just what it is," said Torre. "He'll build back from it. There's no plan for live action yet. We may give him an extra day. He came in today and felt OK."
After throwing 53 pitches on Tuesday, Schmidt said there was no pain, but it took him longer to get loose than he had hoped. Schmidt is returning from serious right shoulder surgery performed last June.
Torre selected: Torre was appointed by President Bush to be a member of the President's Cancer Panel for a term expiring on Feb. 21, 2011.
Dodgers Idol: Live and direct from the entertainment capital of Indian River County, the Dodgers held Day 1 of Dodgers Idol, a hazing extravaganza for players in their first Major League camp. Nomar Garciaparra played the role of Ryan Seacrest, Juan Pierre was Randy Jackson, physical therapist Sue Falsone was Paula Abdul and Jeff Kent was Simon Cowell.
The performers were Rick Asadoorian, Lucas May, James McDonald, John Lindsey, Mario Alvarez and Xavier Paul. Asadoorian was a hit with the guitar and harmonica on "Piano Man."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.