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DODGERS

Dodgers' Juan Pierre comes to camp early seeking to win starting job

Forced to the bench last year, he says he didn't speak out for 'the betterment of the team.' He arrives at spring training with intention of earning left field or center position.

February 16, 2009|Dylan Hernandez

PHOENIX — Juan Pierre strolled into the Dodgers' clubhouse at Camelback Ranch on Sunday, turning the heads of his teammates and prompting a number of them to walk over to embrace him.

"A pro," Manager Joe Torre called Pierre, who was forced into an unwelcome position on the bench last season. But as much praise as the popular outfielder drew from Torre and teammates for the way he handled his demotion, he said doesn't want to have to endure a similar season this year.

"For the betterment of the team last year, I kept my mouth shut and let them play," he said. "That said, this year, I don't want that role again."

Pierre said he felt as if he didn't contribute to the team last year, adding, "Not being able to perform on the field was torture to me."

Reading the Bible is what kept him sane, he said.

Pierre had only 375 at-bats last season; he averaged 654 over his previous seven. He publicly requested a trade at the end of last season through his agent, Mark Pieper, but the Dodgers didn't want to move him because they were unsure whether they could re-sign Manny Ramirez. Torre said that he didn't know whether the Dodgers could afford to deal Pierre even if Ramirez returns, citing the necessity of a fourth outfielder.

"That's a tough question, it really is," Torre said. "He's certainly valuable, but you're sensitive to his desires too."

A trade this off-season, Pierre said, "would've helped both sides, not only me. I know the market has changed, but last year me sitting down basically doing nothing, it wasn't helping me or the team."

Pierre denied that his contract made him untradable, using as an example how the Dodgers released Andruw Jones in exchange for him deferring most of the money remaining on his contract.

"When they want to get rid of guys, they get rid of guys," he said.

But Pierre said he reported to camp early -- three days before position players are required to do so -- with the intention of earning a starting position, whether it is in left field or center. Because he was "on vacation for the last two months" of last season, Pierre said he started his off-season training program within days of the Dodgers' elimination from the playoffs.

"I'll be prepared and ready to go either way," he said.

Opening-day starter

Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda were named by Torre as the two pitchers most likely to be the Dodgers' opening day starter.

Billingsley, 24, was 16-10 with a 3.14 earned-run average last season but lost two games in the National League Championship Series, whereas the 34-year-old Kuroda won his two postseason starts and was the longtime ace of the Hiroshima Carp in Japan.

"You try to pencil in people who you feel can handle the emotion," Torre said.

Brazoban's back?

Former closer Yhency Brazoban, who said he remains unsure whether his shoulder can withstand the rigors of an entire season, threw his first bullpen session of the year.

Brazoban pitched in two major league games last year because of shoulder problems. He was limited to two more games in winter ball because of shoulder inflammation and spent part of his off-season recovering at the Dodgers' training facility in the Dominican Republic.

Believing that his shoulder problems could be related to his weight, Brazoban said he lost 10 pounds this winter by improving his diet and reported to camp weighing 250 pounds. He said his goal is to lose 10 more pounds this spring.

Short hops

General Manager Ned Colletti stopped by Torre's morning meeting and without being asked anything, blurted out, "No, nothing new." He was talking about the Dodgers' drawn-out negotiations with Ramirez, for whom a locker has been set aside in the back corner of the clubhouse. When Colletti walked away, a laughing Torre said, "He's starting to crack." . . . Pierre wasn't the only position player to report early. Also in camp Sunday were Casey Blake, Andre Ethier, Jason Repko and Chin-lung Hu.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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Angels' Napoli may open as DH

Less-than-ideal scenario is under consideration for catcher recovering from shoulder surgery. PAGE 9

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