Furcal nears return to Dodgers
Shortstop has been sidelined since May 5 with back injury
LOS ANGELES -- Rafael Furcal returned to Dodger Stadium Friday night after rehabbing his strained lower back in Phoenix, and he could be about a week away from coming back to the Dodgers' lineup.Furcal said he's 80 to 85 percent better, as he can run full speed whereas before he wasn't even jogging. Running has been the biggest issue throughout the shortstop's rehab from an injury that has kept him out since May 5, with Furcal generally feeling OK at the plate. Dodgers manager Joe Torre said the club likely would be able to start thinking about activating Furcal in a week. With the Minor League season over, Furcal will have to prepare for his first game action in more than four months in situations simulated by the Dodgers. "It's to a point he's been away from competition so long I think basically he's going to have to just ease his way into that just being able to trust himself and allow himself to do all the things that he normally does when he plays this game," Torre said. "A couple different times it looked like he was close, and things went bad for him, so I could see where he would be hesitant. I'm not saying he's going to be, but I'm guessing that's something he's going to have to figure out." Furcal hit .366 with five homers, 16 RBIs and eight stolen bases in the 32 games he played before the injury. Meanwhile, second baseman Jeff Kent has begun his rehab from knee surgery to repair minor cartilage damage in his left knee by working out in the weight room, but he has yet to begin participating in baseball activities. Kent will join the Dodgers on their three-city road trip starting Monday in San Diego so he can be under the supervision of Los Angeles' trainers and partake in baseball activities with the team. Kent said he knew the injury was bad when it happened making a sharp cut to his left Aug. 29 in Arizona on a ball fielded by James Loney. On that play, a torn piece of cartilage Kent had been playing on for a while flipped over on itself, preventing the second baseman from walking. Now that it's fixed, Kent said he's working on mobility exercises to strengthen the joint so he can return as soon as possible, potentially to a pinch-hitting role. "I don't know how long it's going to be, but I know we have a few weeks left," Kent said. "If I didn't have a good outlook on what could happen the next few weeks, I'd be doing something else, not here in gym shorts trying to get back." Third baseman Casey Blake's right biceps were sore on Saturday after getting hit by a pitch on Friday, an injury that affects him throwing the ball. Torre was ready to replace him in the lineup at third with Nomar Garciaparra if his throwing became too big of a hindrance during pregame warmups, but Blake ended up getting the nod. Closer Takashi Saito (sprained right elbow ligament) will throw a simulated game before Sunday's game, after which the club will know more about his potential return next weekend in Colorado.
Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.