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DODGERS REPORT

Little happy to have Gonzalez around

June 28, 2007|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — If Juan Pierre has been a mild disappointment and Jason Schmidt a complete bust, then Luis Gonzalez has been one pleasant surprise of the Dodgers' 2007 free-agent class.

The 39-year-old outfielder whose production had tailed off slightly in recent years is on pace for his best season since 2003, when he hit .304 with 26 homers and 104 runs batted in for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Gonzalez has been especially hot this month. His nine doubles in June are one more than he had in April and May combined, and his 19 runs batted in are one fewer than he totaled in the first two months.

"The production might be a little better than what I expected," Manager Grady Little said of Gonzalez, who is hitting .304 with 10 homers, 39 RBIs and a .506 slugging percentage after getting three singles in the Dodgers' 2-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night. "We've got a good player in this guy and he came to play every day."

Gonzalez attributed his success to finding a happy home with a team contending in the National League West.

"When you sign as a free agent, you want to go somewhere where you feel you have a good chance of getting to the playoffs again," said Gonzalez, who signed a one-year, $7.35-million deal with the Dodgers in hopes of returning to the postseason for the first time since 2002. "You look at the nucleus of guys on this club and the pitching that we have, and you like your chances of trying to get there."

Gonzalez has played a key role, offsetting the loss of J.D. Drew. He also has been a bouncy presence in the clubhouse.

"Never having been around Luis before during a season, the energy that he brings day in and day out for his age is unbelievable," Little said.

Gonzalez said playing close to his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., has helped ease his transition. So has the enthusiasm generated by large crowds at Dodger Stadium, something that had been missing for the longtime Diamondbacks star in recent years at half-empty Chase Field.

"I enjoy going out there and playing in front of 45,000, 50,000 people every night that have a huge passion for your team," Gonzalez said. "There's added pressure that you like to have because they're hungry for a championship just as you are as a player."

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Reliever Chin-hui Tsao began what could be a shorter-than-usual rehabilitation assignment with triple-A Las Vegas on Wednesday night.

"I suspect that we'll be in a position where we won't be wanting to waste too many bullets down in Las Vegas," said Little, whose relief corps has been short-handed since Chad Billingsley moved from the bullpen into the starting rotation.

The Dodgers have been operating with 11 pitchers since Schmidt went on the disabled list June 18, an arrangement Little said he didn't foresee continuing until the All-Star break. Barring a setback, Tsao could be recalled in a matter of days.

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General Manager Ned Colletti said he was pleased with the Dodgers' offensive production under interim hitting coach Bill Mueller and that the team had not begun conducting interviews for a permanent replacement. "We're in the same position we were in at the outset," he said. The Dodgers were hitting .289 and averaging 4.7 runs before Wednesday since Mueller replaced the fired Eddie Murray. They hit .261 and averaged 4.4 runs this season under Murray.... The Dodgers signed supplemental first-round draft pick James Adkins, a left-handed pitcher selected 39th overall.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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