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Furcal Reacts to a Spot Check

Dodgers shortstop has nine hits since returning to the leadoff role after a one-game demotion.

July 09, 2006|Michael Becker | Times Staff Writer

Grady Little knows how to send a message. Last week, the Dodgers' manager demoted Rafael Furcal to the No. 7 spot in the lineup, hoping to invigorate the struggling shortstop.

A day later, Furcal was batting leadoff again, and six days after Little's decision, Furcal is nine for 19 with three runs and two runs batted in. Furcal was two for three Saturday and reached base five times in the Dodgers' 11-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants.

Message received.

Furcal seems revived, drawing walks, scoring runs and performing the general duties of a leadoff hitter that escaped him early in the season when he was slowed by injuries, including lower-back trouble, a sore shoulder, a shin bruise and a jammed finger.

The first-year Dodger wasn't sidelined for any extended time because of the injuries and played through the pain. During that time, he was patient at the plate. It was when he was finally healthy, Little said, that Furcal started to press and try to make up for his restricted play.

Furcal has regained his patience, though, and is finally flashing the skills that brought him his $39-million contract. It started after being put back in the leadoff spot July 4.

"I said, 'Wow, I'm hitting seventh for the first time.' For me it was no problem because [Little] is the boss. He's the man."

But Furcal had a passion to return to the top of the order. "100%," he said, when asked how badly he wanted it. Furcal, who said he's being more patient at the plate, has raised his on-base percentage from .332 to .344 since the change in the lineup.

Furcal has committed a team-high 18 errors. But in an infield consisting of four natural shortstops (Furcal, Cesar Izturis, Nomar Garciaparra and Ramon Martinez), Furcal has gained enough trust to be playing the position regularly. Earlier in the season, Little said he had yet to see the real Furcal in a Dodgers uniform.

A .284 hitter over his career, Furcal spent the first half of the season trying to make up for his inefficiency. He has struck out 57 times and is on pace to finish with 106.

"He's our leadoff hitter," Little said last week. "And he'll remain one."

Furcal is hoping that the second half of the season is more prosperous than the first. He'll spend the All-Star break visiting his family in the Dominican Republic, caring for his two children, including a 5-month-old boy. And when the Dodgers return to the field, at St. Louis on Thursday, it will give Furcal a chance to resume his hot streak.

"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," Furcal said. "I know I can play baseball."

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