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08/06/10 3:01 AM ET

Surprised Ethier plays inning at first base

Outfielder moves in ninth to preserve shorthanded bench

LOS ANGELES -- Andre Ethier imagined the shock he felt was the same felt in the press box.

With the Dodgers' bench thin because of injuries, Dodgers manager Joe Torre approached Ethier and told him he was going to be playing the ninth inning at first base on Thursday. In his five-year, 667-game Major League career, Ethier had never played anywhere but right or left field -- his stint in center in this year's All-Star Game aside.

"I thought It was a joke at first," Ethier said. "But he wasn't smiling. So I said OK ... I think you guys up there were just as shocked as I was."

Ethier took the field with James Loney's glove but saw no action in an otherwise jam-packed, two-run inning that featured an inside-the-park home run from Chris Denorfia that sealed the Padres' 5-0 win. Putting Ethier at first base allowed Torre to keep Ronnie Belliard available as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth. The decision was made when the Dodgers' deficit was still three runs.

"It was what we needed at that time," Ethier said. "It gives us an opportunity to still use Belliard in the ninth inning."

First base isn't entirely unfamiliar to Ethier, who at the least fulfilled the left-handed requirement. In 2002, he was a sophomore in his first year at Arizona State and was the odd-man out in the outfield. The team had a need at first baseman, and he did it.

Since then, Ethier occasionally practiced the position, doing so most recently during the regular season last year. But he hadn't spent any time at first this season, not even in the spring.

"Don't take one off the teeth," Ethier said.

"He's practiced with me a little bit in the past," Loney said. "He wanted to borrow my cup, too."

Belisario resurfaces, throws simulated game

LOS ANGELES -- Twenty-five pitches off the Dodger Stadium mound Thursday afternoon might have been reliever Ronald Belisario's last step before beginning a rehab assignment, which could come as soon as Saturday.

"It looked easy for him to throw," manager Joe Torre said. "Looks like he's in good shape. I think the plan is a rehab appearance, probably this weekend. ... He'll need a day off after today."

The 27-year-old right-hander has been on the restricted list for team-described personal reasons since July 7. The Los Angeles Times reported Belisario was seeking treatment for substance abuse.

"Good," Belisario said when asked how he was feeling. He did not speak to reporters at length.

General manager Ned Colletti did not shed any light on what had kept the right-hander away for so long and said the timetable for his return wasn't entirely in control of the Dodgers.

"Some if it's out of our control, so we'll see," Colletti said. "I think it's a strong step. But like I said, there's more steps to go, but it's good to see him and see him out here. He looks like he's in good shape and it looks like his arm is still strong, still there."

Belisario threw mostly two-seam fastballs, with a few breaking balls and split-finger fastballs. Outfielder Reed Johnson stood in as a right-handed batter and bullpen catcher Mike Borzello as a left-hander. They took no swings.

Belisario began to work out at Dodger Stadium on July 26, and Colletti said Thursday was the fifth time Belisario had thrown. He threw a bullpen session at Dodger Stadium Wednesday morning, as well. Belisario, who appeared to have lost weight, had not previously thrown with reporters on hand.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt watched Belisario throw with about a dozen onlookers that included players, coaches, Torre and Colletti.

"He looks free and easy," Honeycutt said. "The ball obviously comes out of his hands extremely nice. His command was overall good and his velocity looked fine."

Colletti said he had not talked to Torre about the possibility of having Belisario speak in front of his team upon his return.

Belisario does not have to be activated from the restricted list -- and thereby returned to the 40-man roster -- to participate in rehab games. There are limits to how long a player can remain on the restricted list, limits Colletti said were not an issue.

"I ain't worried about that," Colletti said. "I can tell you that, I'm not worried about that."

When Belisario left the team, it put a bullpen that already had two underperforming relievers in George Sherrill and Ramon Troncoso in an even tighter bind. The team has since traded for veteran Octavio Dotel.

Asked what his emotion toward Belisario is, Colletti sounded empathetic.

"I don't know," he said. "I wish for everybody to have a good life and not be unencumbered by whatever challenges, no matter who it is. But we all know life isn't like that. There' a human element that comes into play with all of us. Whatever my emotions are, I always have to come on to figuring out what we're going to do."

Belisario, a native of Venezuela, started the season on the restricted list because of visa issues connected to an arrest last season on suspicion of DUI. The case was resolved on a lesser charge in March.

Furcal feels better, but Manny still hurting

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers received more good news on Rafael Furcal and less good news on Manny Ramirez on Thursday.

Furcal, out since Tuesday with a lower back strain, "said he feels much better, which is great," manager Joe Torre said. "We hope to have him by the start of the trip [Tuesday night in Philadelphia]."

But Ramirez, out since July 17 with a strained right calf, was given a day off from baseball activities as he rehabs at the club's Camelback Ranch complex in Arizona.

"He still has aggravation in the calf," said Torre. "He'll go back to full baseball stuff tomorrow."

The Dodgers have no idea when Ramirez will return. They hoped to have him ready for Minor League rehab games by now.

"Until the discomfort is out of the calf, the only thing he can do is work out and hit," said Torre. "He'll try running tomorrow, that's what Stan [Conte, trainer] told me."

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