The 2006 team went to camp having been patched together over the winter by recently named general manager Ned Colletti, who got the job only after several others withdrew from consideration. But Colletti and his handpicked manager, Grady Little, now have rebuilt the club not only to the point that it made the playoffs last fall, but to the point it now boasts arguably the league’s deepest rotation. For some clubs, the fifth spot in the starting rotation is an afterthought. For the Dodgers, who officially open spring training on Friday in Vero Beach, Fla., the battle for that final starting job will be the most compelling story of the next six weeks. That alone speaks volumes of how far the Dodgers have come in the past year. Which is why the only thing left to hash out is who gets to pitch on the rare day when Jason Schmidt, Derek Lowe, Randy Wolf or Brad Penny do not. The Dodgers’ own version of “Survivor” will start with six contestants. Veterans Mark Hendrickson and Brett Tomko have the luxury of knowing there is a bullpen spot waiting if they don’t land in the rotation. “Whatever happens in the competition for the fifth spot will also have an impact on the competition for bullpen spots,” Colletti said. The rest – Chad Billingsley, Hong-Chih Kuo, Eric Stults and long shot D.J. Houlton – know they could start the season in the minors. While it’s difficult to identify a favorite at this stage, club officials probably are rooting for Billingsley to emerge. The Dodgers’ top pitching prospect for several years now, Billingsley struggled in his big-league debut last season despite going 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA. His problems stemmed from throwing too many pitches and walking too many batters (58 in 90 innings), an issue that has plagued him throughout his professional career. But Billingsley, still just 22, is potentially devastating as a power pitcher. Kuo, 25, was awful out of the bullpen last year, going 0-4 with a 5.34. But he turned in six scoreless innings in his first career start on Sept. 8 against the New York Mets and stayed in the rotation thereafter, going 1-1 with a 3.07 ERA. He also displayed more poise than Billingsley, a fact that might make Kuo the odds-on favorite going into the spring. Kuo could be helped by the fact he would give the Dodgers a second lefty, with Wolf, in the rotation. For that matter, so would Hendrickson, 32, who went to the bullpen when Kuo became a starter. At that time, Hendrickson was 1-7 since being acquired from Tampa Bay on June 27. Thereafter, as a reliever, he allowed just one run in 10 appearances. Still, Hendrickson made it clear to club officials this winter that he has no interest in relieving long-term. If he doesn’t make the rotation – and if the Dodgers still are looking for a power bat – that could make Hendrickson trade bait toward the end of camp. Tomko, whose entire career has been a testament to unmet expectations, agreed last July to go to the bullpen after going 6-6 with a 5.12 ERA as a starter. But he made the switch believing he eventually would work into a prominent, late-innings role. Instead, he pitched mostly in middle relief, and although the experiment began well, it didn’t end that way. Tomko blew leads three times on a single road trip in September, and the Dodgers lost all three games. Stults, another lefty, made two starts last season, both of which were impressive. But he is 27 and the odds of him making the rotation are long. Houlton also is 27 and didn’t pitch in the majors at all last year after a mediocre rookie season in 2005 when he had to stay in the big leagues because he was a Rule5 pick. He’ll need a phenomenal spring, much like he had two years ago, to win this battle. If no one distinguishes himself, the job still could fall to veteran Elmer Dessens. But that seems highly unlikely. “We like (Dessens) in the (middle relief) role we have him in now,” Colletti said. Position players will report Feb. 20 and work out the following day, with the biggest question among them being whether third-base prospect Andy LaRoche is ready for the majors. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!