Ronald Belisario spent last season in Venezuela instead of with the Los Angeles Dodgers because of visa problems.
The reason? A positive test for cocaine.
Belisario says he only used the drug once, but doesn’t remember when he tried it, when he tested positive or who administered the test. He said he must serve a 25-game suspension — Major League Baseball has not announced any discipline.
”I don’t have a problem with drugs, I’m good,” Belisario said Wednesday, the first day of workouts for Dodgers pitchers and catchers at spring training. ”It was a one-time thing.”
Belisario has had a checkered past, derailing what was once a promising career.
As a rookie in 2009, he had a 2.04 ERA in 69 appearances despite getting a late start to the season because of visa problems. Belisario again had visa issues the following year, in part because of a DUI arrest in Pasadena, Calif., in 2009. He also left the team for a month to enter a drug rehabilitation program in 2010, which he said was not for cocaine. The 29-year-old right-hander wouldn’t elaborate on why he went into the program.
Belisario spent last season playing in Venezuela after the positive test for cocaine prevented him from obtaining the necessary paperwork to enter the United States. The Dodgers also placed him on the restricted list for the third time in two seasons last March, which is still in place.
Belisario cleared up his visa problems in plenty of time for this season, arriving Jan. 23, but said he still has to serve a 25-game suspension for failing to comply with baseball’s joint drug agreement. He wasn’t sure if the positive cocaine test was the reason for the suspension, but it appears to be for violating his drug treatment program.
”I don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
After his superb rookie season, Belisario’s ERA ballooned to 5.04 in 59 games during his troublesome 2010 season. He wasn’t exactly dominating in the Venezuelan Winter League last year, either, posting another 5-plus ERA with 15 walks in 22 2/3 innings for Margarita.
Despite his troubled past, the Dodgers are ready to give him a fresh shot in the hopes that he can regain his rookie-season form.
”The thing with Beli is to have an understanding of his past, but he’ll have a fresh start here,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. ”He’ll be tested like everyone in baseball, maybe even more. Until we have any problems, I’m going to anticipate he’s in good order.”
Mattingly said he doesn’t plan to keep an extra focus on Belisario, but added that the team does have personnel who deal with counseling and giving players what they need, no matter the situation.
”I don’t necessarily have to be part of the actual conversations as long as we know he’s being able to see someone if he wants to,” Mattingly said. ”I think baseball is proactive and we’re proactive in making sure everything’s available.
Belisario arrived to the Dodgers’ clubhouse early on Wednesday, got dressed and chatted with a couple of his teammates before heading in for a physical. He, like the rest of the pitchers, went through a handful of drills during the first workout, then threw his first bullpen session of the spring, about 35 pitches.
After everything he had been through to get here, he was glad to be back.
”I am so excited to be here,” he said. ”I was waiting for this moment when I was home, and finally, I’m here.”
Notes: LHP Ted Lilly didn’t attend the first day of workouts because his wife gave birth to their daughter. The 36-year-old will be a few days behind the other pitchers when he does arrive in the desert, but Mattingly wasn’t concerned because, unlike some of the past years, he was healthy during the offseason. … Lefty Clayton Kershaw threw a career-high 233 1/3 innings last season, the fourth straight year with an increase, but Mattingly said he won’t try to limit the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner’s pitches in the spring. ”I’m not going to be the one to do it,” he said. ”And if I tried, Clayton probably wouldn’t listen to me anyway.” … Last year, OF Matt Kemp fell a homer short of becoming baseball’s fifth player to have 40 homers and 40 steals in the same season. He’s set his sights even higher this year: becoming the first 50-50 player ever. Is the NL MVP runner-up setting himself up for a fall? Not in Mattingly’s eyes. ”I’d rather have him shoot for that than to say he wants another 20-20 season and remain consistent,” he said. ”I want him to challenge himself.”