Either Carlos Frias or Ross Stripling will be the Dodgers’ fifth starter.

Carlos Frias

Carlos Frias is the front-runner to be the Dodgers’ fifth starter. (Associated Press photo)

The race to be the Dodgers’ fifth starter has been a shell game wrapped in a war of attrition wrapped in a secret back field “B game.” Here’s where it stands on March 31.

The two candidates for the job are right-handers Carlos Frias and Ross Stripling, manager Dave Roberts said Thursday after the Dodgers lost to the Angels 2-1. [box score]

Frias would appear to be the favorite. He saw action in parts of seven Cactus League games, starting two, and posted a 3.44 ERA (seven earned runs allowed in 18 ⅓ innings). He walked seven batters and struck out 13. Only Kenta Maeda and Clayton Kershaw pitched more innings in major league exhibition games for the Dodgers this spring.

Frias is also the only one of the two pitchers who’s with the team in Los Angeles now. His most recent Cactus League start was March 25 against the Giants — the same team the fifth starter will face a week from Friday. Frias allowed six hits and no runs in a four-inning start that day, for whatever that’s worth.

Stripling was optioned to Triple-A earlier this month and remains with the club’s minor leaguers at Camelback Ranch. His next game is Sunday, either against minor leaguers in Arizona or a simulated game of some kind in Southern California, Roberts said.

Stripling got into four Cactus League games, starting one, and allowing five runs in 11 innings. He walked four batters and struck out 11. The 26-year-old missed all of 2014 and most of 2015 following Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, and has never appeared in a major league game.

On the surface, whoever wins the job would appear to be nothing more than a short-term placeholder. Right-handers Mike Bolsinger and Brandon Beachy were the front-runners for the job until both got hurt in camp. They are on track to return some time in April.

Hyun-Jin Ryu (shoulder) and Brandon McCarthy (elbow) are ahead of Bolsinger and Beachy on the depth chart, but neither of them will return before June.

In the meantime, the Dodgers will need their fifth starter to make only one start in their first 17 games without using another starter on short rest.

“I wouldn’t limit it to one start,” Roberts said. “That fifth starter I would assume will make a couple starts, then we’ll kind of evaluate from there, but it’s also kind of based on how they’re throwing.”

Right-hander Zach Lee had been until the mix, but “over the course of the day we were talking through some scenarios,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to come to some consensus at some point.”

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About J.P. Hoornstra

J.P. Hoornstra covers the Dodgers, Angels and Major League Baseball for the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, San Bernardino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Whittier Daily News and Redlands Daily Facts. Before taking the beat in 2012, J.P. covered the NHL for four years. UCLA gave him a degree once upon a time; when he graduated on schedule, he missed getting Arnold Schwarzenegger's autograph on his diploma by five months.