Notes: Nomar moving to third base
Dodgers make room for rookie Loney at first
PHOENIX -- After months of resisting the obvious, manager Grady Little finally is moving Nomar Garciaparra across the diamond to third base, opening up first base for hot-hitting rookie James Loney.
Garciaparra began taking grounders at third before Monday's game against the Diamondbacks, in which he was still to start at first base with Loney on the bench. But Little no longer can bear the thought of having Loney on the bench, and he's run out of patience while Wilson Betemit has been unable to regain last year's offensive production.
"We're still waiting for [Betemit] to catch a spell where he gets hot, but so far it hasn't happened and we're a little disappointed, and it's brought about the situation today," Little said. "We're trying to get ourselves to be the best we can be, and that option is there for us. Nomar is 100 percent on board. He's been there before. It's not a strange place for him."
Nonetheless, it's a move Little has resisted, mainly because of Garciaparra's fragile body, particularly his throwing shoulder. Garciaparra, who became a first baseman last year when he joined the Dodgers, told Little before Spring Training started he'd be willing to play anywhere. Little said he began thinking seriously about the move a week ago. Although he said it was "not a last resort," Little also said once Garciaparra moves, he would play third base "predominantly, most of the time." Garciaparra could make his first appearance at third as soon as Friday.
Loney, last year's Triple-A batting champ, was prevented from starting the season in the Major Leagues because Garciaparra's re-signing to a two-year contract blocked Loney's path to first base. Loney was hitting only .279 at Triple-A this year, more than 100 points lower than last year, but he was promoted June 10 and is hitting .429 with two homers and an .821 slugging percentage in 28 at-bats.
The Dodgers tried to find at-bats for Loney by playing him in the outfield, but that apparently was scrapped when he narrowly escaped serious injury running into the right-field fence at Dodger Stadium last weekend.
Garciaparra, meanwhile, actually has a lower slugging percentage than Betemit (.338-.408). Garciaparra has been clutch enough to drive in 38 runs, tied for second on the club, but he has only one home run after hitting 20 last year. In addition to Betemit, Little has tried Tony Abreu, Andy LaRoche, Wilson Valdez and Ramon Martinez this year at third base, a position that has been a black hole since the departure of Adrian Beltre after the 2004 season.
"I love the game and I want to help us win any way I can, and everybody out here feels the same way," said Garciaparra. "You saw guys moving around last year, and it's not easy doing any of that stuff, but you don't hear guys complaining. You just work and do what's asked and I'm no different. I said from Day One, I play whatever, whenever, I'm there."
Exclusively a shortstop the first eight years of his career, except for one game at second base as a rookie, Garciaparra had never played third base until 2005 with the Cubs, and he did it with only one day of practice, voluntarily. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez pulled a quadriceps muscle on Aug. 24. That night, Garciaparra went into manager Dusty Baker's office and told him if he needed a replacement at third base, he would make the move.
The Cubs were off the next day, but Garciaparra went to Wrigley Field and coach Chris Speier hit him ground balls at the new position. The following day, Garciaparra started there and played 34 games the rest of the way, committing six errors, a relatively high total for the position and amount of games played.
"I came to Wrigley that off-day to see Nomar take ground balls from Speier because I wanted to see his movement and his footwork and how he threw from a different arm angle," recalled Baker, now an ESPN analyst. "At first, things moved a little quick for him over there. But he played a very good third base for a guy who hadn't played there. If a guy can play shortstop the way he can, he can play third base. Now he's played a very good first base. Third and first are similar positions, just opposite. It's not like moving a guy in from the outfield."
How many yen is $2.4 billion? Triple-A left-handed pitcher Matt White, who gained international fame during Spring Training when he told MLB.com that he bought a piece of land from a relative that contained $2.4 billion worth of decorative rock, is being granted his release so he can pitch in Japan.
Injury update: Chin-hui Tsao was impressive in a 45-pitch bullpen session and will probably head out for a Minor League rehabilitation assignment for his shoulder later this week.
Disabled infielder Martinez rejoined the club, healed from a pulled back muscle. He began hitting and running Monday and also is headed for a rehab session, probably a few days after Tsao.
Draft picks signed: The Dodgers have signed 16 of their first 19 Draft picks taken earlier this month.
Still unsigned are supplemental first-round pick James Adkins, a left-handed pitcher from the University of Tennessee; fifth-rounder Kyle Blair, a right-handed pitcher from Los Gatos (Calif.) High School; and 14th-rounder Devin Fuller, a right-handed pitcher from Gilbert (Ariz.) High School. Blair is the most likely to sign.
Independent acquisitions: The Dodgers went on a buying spree to fill holes in the Minor League system, purchasing three players out of the Independent Atlantic League. Catcher Ben Davis and right-handed pitcher Chris Fussell were assigned to Triple-A Las Vegas, while infielder Kevin Howard was assigned to Double-A Jacksonville. Davis last played in the Major Leagues in 2004, Fussell in 2000.
Coming up: Chad Billingsley (4-0, 3.26) opposes Edgar Gonzalez (3-2, 4.35) on Tuesday at 6:40 p.m. PT
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.