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04/09/08 4:20 PM ET

Garciaparra nears rehab stint

Dodgers infielder still feeling discomfort in right hand

PHOENIX -- The last step before Nomar Garciaparra returns to the Dodgers will be a Minor League rehabilitation assignment, and a decision on that could come as early as Friday, according to manager Joe Torre.

When he returns, impressive rookie Blake DeWitt can expect an "attaboy" parting gift and a ticket back to the Minor Leagues.

"It seems like the obvious thing," Torre conceded. "A lot can happen between now and then and we may decide to think another way, but as long as we have 12 pitchers, one triggers the other. That's safe to assume."

With starting pitchers going no more than four innings in three of the previous six games, 12 pitchers is almost a certainty for the immediate future.

Torre indicated Chin-lung Hu would continue as the utility infielder because he can play three positions, particularly shortstop. DeWitt was a high school shortstop, but hasn't played the position as a professional.

As for Garciaparra, Torre said the veteran still has some discomfort in his healing broken right hand, but his return "shouldn't be far down the road," possibly some time next week. Garciaparra did not take regular batting practice on Wednesday because he took extra swings Tuesday.

Andy LaRoche has begun to swing a bat a month after surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament, but throwing will be his last hurdle and he could be looking at another month of healing.

Tony Abreu has begun playing in extended Spring Training games. But even when he's healthy, he might have trouble getting his utility job back from Hu, who has played well and stayed healthy.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.