Notes: Third base remains up in air
Despite LaRoche's emergence, Torre mum on hot corner
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Two days into full-squad practice and rookie Andy LaRoche again was at third base in the group with the other three starting infielders: first baseman James Loney, second baseman Jeff Kent and shortstop Rafael Furcal.
Manager Joe Torre has said not to read anything into the groupings and he denied that the third-base job is LaRoche's to lose. Nonetheless, Torre did say that six-time All Star Nomar Garciaparra, his other obvious option at third base, would be a good candidate for a bench role because of his versatility and experience.
"When you've been around a lot, you can slow the game down," Torre said. "Young kids put more pressure on themselves. I talked to Nomar during the offseason about third base, but also that he has the ability to play everywhere else in the infield. That's especially valuable in this league with a lot of double-switching. You need the flexibility."
Conventional wisdom is that, ideally, LaRoche would start and Garciaparra would provide Torre with defensive flexibility off the bench, along with a clutch right-handed bat for late-inning pinch-hitting situations, especially now that Olmedo Saenz, for four years the primary right-handed pinch-hitter, is gone.
Torre provided further fuel to the speculation by referring to players he's previously managed who have transitioned from starter to reserve. He said Bernie Williams adjusted to losing the center-field job in New York by playing right and left fields.
"And Chris Chambliss in Atlanta was as good as I've seen of a regular player coming off the bench," Torre said. "You've got to hit pitch-one in those situations and [Garciaparra, a notorious first-pitch swinger] doesn't have a problem hitting pitch-one. In RBI situations, he knows how to hit. He has a better feel in that situation."
But Torre backed off when asked if it was LaRoche's job to lose.
"No. Nomar's experience plays into this thing," he said. "It's not necessarily Andy's job to lose. We'll decide how it best helps the club. I don't expect Nomar to play 155 or 160 games."
Rotation announced: Media were similarly cautioned not to project to Opening Day, but Torre laid out a starting pitching rotation that sure looks like it could be repeated for the first week of the season.
All-Star Brad Penny will start an intrasquad game on Tuesday, Derek Lowe will start a simulated game Wednesday, Chad Billingsley will start the exhibition opener against the Braves at Vero Beach on Feb. 28 and Hiroki Kuroda will start against the Braves in Orlando on Feb. 29.
The alignment makes sense on many levels, including separating the hard-throwing Penny and Billingsley with the sinker-throwing Lowe, who has been the Dodgers' Opening Day starter the past three seasons.
Following Penny in the intrasquad game will be Chan Ho Park and Hong-Chih Kuo. Joining Lowe in the simulated game will be Eric Stults. Jason Johnson will follow Billingsley. Esteban Loaiza, a contender for the fifth spot, will follow Kuroda.
Billingsley was in the first group of pitchers throwing live batting practice on Thursday. Penny, Kuroda, Loaiza and Kuo are scheduled to throw to hitters on Friday.
A Young infielder: Delwyn Young is still an outfielder, but the club has asked him to dust off his second baseman's glove.
Young is taking ground balls in early work with the coaching staff before the day's regular practice begins. Young originally was a second baseman, but was moved to the outfield after leading the Minor Leagues twice in errors at the position.
"This way I get more reps," Young said. "I'm concentrating on making the basic plays and focusing on doing it right."
The switch-hitting Young last year hit .337 at Triple-A Las Vegas and was the team MVP. He hit .382 in a 19-game September callup with the big league club and is in contention for a utility spot.
Torre on Loney: The manager saw Matt Kemp during the club's minicamp in Los Angeles last month, but he got his first look at Loney during batting practice on Thursday.
"I've been wanting to see Loney swing a bat, so I camped out in one spot, and I was very impressed with the ease with which he swings it," said Torre. "He has good coverage and doesn't have to hit to one field. Good stuff."
In that hitting group was Kemp and Garciaparra, and Torre mentioned Kemp's power.
"There are guys who hit the ball in the air and it doesn't come down," said Torre. "You think he missed it, but the ball carries. It will be fun watching his game."
Medical report: Non-roster outfielder George Lombard said his strained left calf muscle felt better than he expected the day after suffering it, but he expects to be sidelined a few more days. He said he suffered a similar injury to his right calf in Spring Training in 2001.
Honeymoon at Dodgertown: The crowds at Dodgertown are bigger this year than they've been in at least a decade. Included on Thursday were Tim and Danielle Monteath, wearing Mickey Mouse ears that included a top hat and a bride's veil. They who were married on Saturday in San Juan Batista, Calif., and took their honeymoon to Florida so that Tim, a lifelong Dodgers fan, could see the team's longtime Spring Training site. Danielle said she was not a baseball fan prior to meeting Tim but has since been converted. The couple flies home Friday after also stopping at Disney World in Orlando.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.