Against all odds, Fife keeping rotation hopes alive
Righty steps up in spot start as he tries to fight his way back up the depth chart
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Now the Dodgers have nine starting pitchers.
"That's been my goal, that by the end of spring, just to keep my name in the mix," Stephen Fife said after delivering a solid spot start for the Dodgers on Wednesday against Team Mexico in place of the ailing Zack Greinke.
The irony isn't lost on Fife that Greinke's absence would create a start for him. It was Greinke's $147 million signing that dropped Fife another rung on the depth chart, even though he had a 2.70 ERA while making five Major League starts last year when injuries claimed Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw.
In a different Dodgers era, the 26-year-old's solid performance would at least put him in contention for a fifth-starter spot.
The offseason, however, also brought the signing of Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu as well as Greinke. Then there are Kershaw, Josh Beckett, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly and Billingsley ahead of Fife.
"There are a lot of guaranteed salaries over there," Fife said, looking over at the side of the clubhouse where the rich players are lockered. "The front office is going to do whatever it determines is necessary. I just have to be able to look myself in the mirror and know I worked as hard as I could to be ready if a get a chance."
Fife said he didn't waste time in the winter bitter at the club's aggressive free-agent signings.
"It's all part of the game," he said. "I know what I'm up against. Ownership is not going to mess around. Those signings are meant to help us win. Sure, it makes my hill a little taller, but I still have to prove I can pitch. I can still glean from Cy Young winners and 10-year vets and zero in on how they work and take from them what they do and maybe, someday, I'll have the longevity they're having."
One spring ago, Fife was getting his first look by the big league staff after his acquisition July 31, 2011 from Boston with Tim Federowicz in the Trayvon Robinson deal. He opened last season with a "horrendous" April at Albuquerque, reworked his mechanics with pitching coaches Glenn Dishman and Rafael Chaves and got the callup in mid-July.
"Overhauling a delivery during the season is very hard to do," said Dishman. "We let him go back to some of the pregame drills he did in college that he couldn't do with Boston, and that gave him some confidence and security.
"We moved him to the left side of the rubber, and that freed him up and the ball started to come out a lot better. He realizes the odds are stacked against him with the names and numbers, but that doesn't deter him. He could easily have moped and shut down, but he's shown he's a fighter."
Fife was a third-round choice of Boston in 2008 out of the University of Utah, having played in the 1999 Little League World Series.
This spring, Fife came to camp in top shape, having arrived at Camelback Ranch in mid-December to work with organization strength and conditioning coaches.
He also said club officials told him not to be discouraged by the offseason moves. Despite all of the guaranteed contracts, Fife has remained in the rotation with the other starters.
"They told me don't count myself out," he said. "I know a lot of things have to happen, but I don't think my name is out of the mix."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.