Sunday, March 25, 2007

And Your Fifth Starter Is...Brett Tomko

Brett Tomko was just announced as the Dodgers' fifth starter. He will pitch his first start April 10 against the Rockies.

The announcement knocks Mark Hendrickson to long (and tall) relief, that is, unless Brad Penny won't be able to make his start.

For Tomko, getting the nod is the payoff to an offseason of hard work, better conditioning and a more compact delivery.

"I prepared myself to win a spot," he said. "I didn't expect it, but I was confident. I had the mind-set to deal with it if it didn't go in my favor and do the best I could in whatever role, but I wouldn't have been overjoyed with a different decision. I wanted to earn it and I feel I did."

Tomko has a 5.14 spring ERA, a number inflated by his most recent start, when he allowed six runs in four innings against Baltimore on a windy day at Holman Stadium. Hendrickson's ERA is 5.40.

Tomko was one of general manager Ned Colletti's early acquisitions before the 2006 season. He signed a two-year contract plus an option and he started hotter than any of the Dodgers, going 5-1 with a 2.88 ERA after his first eight starts.

Most of the world has long forgotten those first six weeks and remember instead his nightmare trip to Chicago and New York in early September. Between the two stretches, Tomko slumped as a starter, then suffered an oblique strain that put him on the disabled list for five weeks. When he returned he volunteered for relief duty to bolster a beleaguered bullpen and did well for the first month, allowing two earned runs in 14 1/3 innings.

Again, apparently long forgotten. His troubles actually started with a blown save in Arizona on Aug. 23, but the roof fell in three appearances -- a Sept. 9 blown save at Shea Stadium and a pair of bad outings at Wrigley Field in losses Sept. 12 and 14. Tomko was charged with six earned runs in 1 1/3 innings in that Cubs series, or his 3.64 ERA as a reliever for the year would have been 1.84. Tomko's two postseason appearances were equally forgettable. As a starter last year, he was 6-6 with a 5.12 ERA.

Little said Hendrickson accepted the news.

"He wants to be part of a winning team," said Little. "He knows things happen. He'll be ready to start when we need him and that day will come."

I guess a 5.12 ERA beats a 5.40 ERA by a hair. This is one of those "lesser of two evil" choices that I think is coming out best for the Dodgers (especially considering Hong-Chih Kuo's injury). I'm guessing Hendrickson will get plenty of chances to start later on in the season, but for now I'm hopeful this announcement works out well for the Dodgers.