The Dodgers know how they’re going to start the games, having assembled their starting rotation before December started, but how they’re going to end their games is another issue.

They enter the season with some big questions surrounding their closer, Jonathan Broxton.

Tony Jackson of reports that Dodger officials will only be giving Broxton about a month’s worth of rope before they pull him from the closer’s role should he struggle, and it could be even less if Broxton doesn’t throw well in spring training.

Spring training might not be the best place to evaluate how a pitcher will perform during the regular season, especially not for a relief pitcher. However, if new manager Don Mattingly doesn’t like what he sees, there’s no reason to think he’ll give Broxton as much of a chance as Joe Torre did.

Broxton struggled for most of the season, finishing with just 22 saves and a 4.04 ERA.

Broxton’s up-and-down season finally came to an ugly end in late July. On Jul. 18, Broxton gave up two runs in the ninth against the St. Louis Cardinals, blowing a 4-3 Dodger lead and completing a four-game Cardinals sweep.

Less than two weeks later, against the San Francisco Giants, Broxton gave up an eighth inning, go-ahead two-run home run to Pat Burrell, sending the Dodgers to a 2-1 loss.

Manager Joe Torre finally removed Broxton from the closer’s role on Aug. 18. He would make just five more appearances the rest of the season, blowing two more saves in three chances. Broxton finished the 2010 season with seven blown saves overall, his fourth straight season with six or more.

Entering the 2011 season, Broxton is the Dodgers closer. Even if he doesn’t show much in spring training, he’ll likely still start the season in the ninth inning, but he’ll have to have a great April to stay there.

Making matters worse, Broxton’s name was thrown around in a rumored trade, which would have brought Prince Fielder to Chavez Ravine. That deal never really had any legs, but just the fact that Broxton might have been included illustrates how weak his position is within the organization.

For now though, Broxton is still in Dodger blue, but should he struggle again, the Dodgers have a few in-house replacements.

Hong-Chih Kuo took over as closer after Broxton was removed from the job. Kuo, who saved nine games in as many chances in Broxton’s place, was a 2010 All-Star and finished the season with a 1.20 ERA in 56 appearances and a 4.06 K/BB rate.

He is in the best position to take over for Broxton again if needed, but given his history of arm problems, may not be able to handle the job for as much of the season. His 56 appearances in 2010 were the most of Kuo’s career. Over the last five seasons, Broxton averaged almost 72 appearances.

Can Kuo handle being the Dodgers closer for most of the season and the workload that comes with it?

If not, the Dodgers will need a plan C, or even a plan D.

Plan C could start with Vicente Padilla, who made 16 starts for the Dodgers last season, going 6-5 with a 4.07 ERA. The Dodgers’ biggest strength right now is their starting rotation, and Padilla simply adds additional depth. The Dodgers can feel comfortable knowing they can expect at least 200 IP from each of their starters, meaning Padilla can stay fresh in the bullpen.

Should Broxton struggle early in the season, and if manager Don Mattingly is unwilling to push Kuo very far, Padilla could be a well-rested option.

Mattingly may have to employ a closer-by-committee if Broxton can’t get the job done, putting in whichever reliever has the hottest hand.

Broxton is the Dodgers closer, for now. The question is, how long will it last?

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