when needed? yeah, how about now imo, eovaldi 100x > lilly, harang or crapuano Eovaldi ready to step in when needed Lilly's neck injury could accelerate 22-year-old's timetable By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com | 03/25/12 8:50 PM ET PHOENIX -- If not for Rubby De La Rosa and Hiroki Kuroda, Nathan Eovaldi would be the story of the spring for the Dodgers. With Ted Lilly's neck injury, an argument could still be made for Eovaldi. Here's how the dots connect: De La Rosa blew out his elbow at age 22, 10 starts into his Major League career last year, and is shelved until mid-season after Tommy John surgery, diminishing the starting pitching depth and giving the club pause about counting on a 22-year-old Eovaldi coming into this season. Meanwhile, Kuroda wanted the kind of salary ($12 million per year) the Dodgers were not willing to pay. So, general manager Ned Colletti took what Kuroda wanted and bought twice the arms in Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. "We decided we needed to upgrade other areas," said Colletti, ticking off second base, the bench and the rotation. "Looking at the free agents, we thought Aaron and Chris could give us 180 innings and give Nathan a chance to develop. If somebody goes down, we'd be confident he could step in." So Harang and Capuano joined Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Lilly to lock up the rotation, blocking Eovaldi's path to the Major Leagues. Without the pressure of competing for the fifth starter slot, Eovaldi came to camp with virtually no chance of winning a Major League starting job and just pitched. Very nicely, it should be added. Taking regular turns as the sixth starter in the rotation, he's allowed one earned run in 10 2/3 innings. More importantly, he's walked only two after walking 20 in 34 2/3 Major League innings as De La Rosa's replacement last summer. And with 11 days to go before the season starts, Lilly is ailing with a bad neck. Management is cautiously optimistic that Lilly will heal in time for the season's start, but Eovaldi appears ready to step in if needed. "It's a big mistake to have just four starters and cobble together a fifth," said Colletti, who has been forced to do that in the past. "You really better have a sixth and a seventh and an eighth." It's hard to speculate if Eovaldi would have had the same spring success had he been counted on as the fifth starter. The Dodgers have seen other promising live arms flop when counted on entering a season, like Edwin Jackson and James McDonald. "I saw Edwin when it was his job to lose in Spring Training, and he lost it," said pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. "Expectations for a player are what you make of them and everybody is different. Expectations can affect people, when all of a sudden you've got to be this or that. When they're young, there will be growing pains. "What I like about Nate this Spring is that he continues to work to get better and he wants to get better and he has. He's been more efficient, throwing more strikes, his changeup is better and he's incorporating his curveball better so not everything is hard. It's really been a positive thing." Eovaldi just shrugs when asked what's left to say when you know you're headed back to the Minor Leagues regardless of how well you pitch. The Dodgers would rather he start regularly in the minors than pitch irregularly out of a Major League bullpen. "I just try to keep getting better," he said. "I'm glad they're giving me starts. Just the fact they've gotten me in as much as they have is good." Eovaldi admits he was disappointed when the Dodgers signed Harang and Capuano, because that meant his path would be blocked. "I was hoping [to win a job], so certainly I was, but hopefully I'll earn a spot again," he said. "I felt like I performed really well last year, but I'd like to limit my walks and attack hitters to get quicker outs. I just have to work harder and get better. Probably because I've already had Tommy John surgery [in high school], they'd rather be safe than sorry."