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DODGERS

Young players asked to fill leadership void for Dodgers

Departed veterans such as Jeff Kent and Brad Penny used to do the talking in the clubhouse.

February 19, 2009|Dylan Hernandez

PHOENIX — This morning's first full workout of the spring will be preceded by the Dodgers' first full-squad meeting, which raises a question about which players, if any, will talk.

Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe and Brad Penny spoke regularly at these types of gatherings in recent years, but everyone from that group is retired, thinking of retiring or is with another club.

Will any of the younger stars fill the leadership vacuum in the clubhouse?

"They're going to have to," Manager Joe Torre said.

The transition started last August on the Dodgers' final visit of the season to Arizona. Torre and his coaching staff called five players into the manager's office -- Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton. Chad Billingsley was excluded because he was the starting pitcher that day.

"I let them know, 'You're the future of this organization,' basically," Torre said.

"You guys take over that clubhouse," third base coach Larry Bowa recalled hearing Torre tell the group.

There was more.

Torre told them that they reminded him of the nucleus of his World Series championship teams with the New York Yankees, a group that included Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams.

"That's one of the best compliments you can get, to get compared to a dynasty," Martin said.

Bowa, who was Torre's right-hand man in New York, said it would be vital for Martin's group to assert itself on the field and off, especially if the Dodgers fail to re-sign Manny Ramirez.

Bowa has liked what he has seen so far, saying that he has never seen a clubhouse change as much as it has over an off-season.

"They literally look like they like each other," Bowa said. "There's a looseness. This has nothing to do with bashing people, but maybe they didn't feel comfortable with certain veterans."

Kent, who approached work with a no-nonsense attitude, made players around him noticeably timid. Garciaparra mostly kept to himself.

Martin and his similarly aged teammates have also appeared more at ease with reporters.

Asked why, Loney shrugged.

"Maybe it's just experience," he said. "Maybe it's just knowing myself better, growing up."

What Loney said he did know is that he won't be afraid to speak up.

"I think I'm prepared to say anything to help the team and help everyone get in on the program," he said.

Early workouts

Infielders Chin-lung Hu and Blake DeWitt were at Camelback Ranch by 7:30 a.m. Wednesday for what will probably be the first of many early-morning practice sessions with Bowa.

Bowa worked extensively last spring with Hu and Andy LaRoche, who was traded later to the Pittsburgh Pirates. His offer to once again hit grounders while most of the players are arriving at the complex could be particularly important to DeWitt, who is penciled in to start at second base after spending most of his pro career at third.

"Any time he sees you can do something better -- not necessarily wrong -- he'll let you know," DeWitt said.

Short hops

Torre reiterated that the 2010 season will be his last as a manager. His three-year contract with the Dodgers expires after that season. . . . General Manager Ned Colletti said he continues to talk to Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras. Colletti, who said he has some payroll flexibility, acknowledged that he's also had conversations with the representatives of free-agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. . . . Reliever Cory Wade received a cortisone injection in his sore shoulder and will be shut down for a few days.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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