Mike Bolsinger is improving, but no answers yet about who the Dodgers’ fifth starter is.

Mike Bolsinger

Dodgers pitcher Mike Bolsinger is recovering from a strained oblique muscle. (Getty Images)


GLENDALE, Ariz. — First things first. The Dodgers will need a fifth starter once in their first 17 games, April 8 in San Francisco. When I write, and you talk, about the race to be the Dodgers’ fifth starter, what we all really mean is the race to face the Giants on April 8.

So, who’s leading that race?

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Dodgers sign Joe Blanton to fill long-relief role.

Joe Blanton

Joe Blanton made 10 starts for the Dodgers in 2012, but will pitch as a reliever in his return to Los Angeles. (Getty Images)

The Dodgers have signed pitcher Joe Blanton, bringing back the 35-year-old as a long reliever — a role he thrived in last year — on a one-year, $4 million contract.

Blanton briefly retired in 2014 when he flamed out as a starting pitcher for the Oakland A’s Triple-A affiliate. In 2013, his last full season as a starting pitcher, Blanton went 2-14 with a 6.04 earned-run average for the Angels.

In 2015, the right-hander re-surfaced as a relief pitcher with the Kansas City Royals, who sold his contract to the Pittsburgh Pirates in July. His combined stats for the two teams: A 2.84 earned-run average in 36 games — 32 out of the bullpen — over 76 innings. Blanton struck out 79 batters against only 16 walks.

The Philadelphia Phillies traded Blanton to the Dodgers in August 2012. He went 2-4 with a 4.99 ERA in 10 starts. After the season, he signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Angels.

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Ten Dodgers become free agents.

The Dodgers declined to exercise the 2013 club options on Todd Coffey, Juan Rivera and Matt Treanor.

They join another seven players who became free agents today: Brandon League, Shane Victorino, Randy Choate, Jamey Wright, Joe Blanton, Adam Kennedy and Bobby Abreu.

In other words, no big names or surprises for the Dodgers on the first day of free agency. Players can only sign with new teams beginning at 9 p.m. Friday. Between now and then, the Dodgers can re-sign any of their in-house free agents, and they’ve already opened discussions with League’s representatives.

General manager Ned Colletti said that he would like to bring back Choate and Wright, as well, to keep intact a bullpen that finished the 2012 season strong.

Coffey, Rivera and Treanor now fall into the category of Victorino, Kennedy and Abreu: highly unlikely to be on the roster next season.

Blanton is an interesting case. The Dodgers gave him what amounted to a 10-start audition in August and September. In five starts at home, the 31-year-old right-hander went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA. Not bad. In five road starts he was 1-3, 6.51. Bad.

I guess that makes Blanton a “known quantity” for a team that is looking to add a starting pitcher. But looking at a free-agent market that now includes Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster, Kyle Lohse  and Hiroki Kuroda (another “known quantity”), the Dodgers probably figure they can do better.

The hot stove is just warming up.

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Blanton would start in Game 163.

Joe Blanton will start for the Dodgers if they can force a game 163 on Thursday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Manager Don Mattingly made the announcement prior to Tuesday’s game against the San Francisco Giants.

“If we get to that game, we’re going to be feeling really good,” Mattingly said. “Joe’s been throwing the ball good. Joe’s pitched in the World Series. We’re going to have the freshest arm.”

A lot would have to go right for that to happen — the Dodgers must beat the San Francisco Giants today and tomorrow, while the Cincinnati Reds must beat the St. Louis Cardinals tonight and tomorrow. If the Dodgers win that game, they will have to turn around and fly to Atlanta for the wild-card game, which factored into Mattingly’s decision not to pitch Josh Beckett on three days’ rest.

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