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Double-play partners are sticking together

March 15, 2009|Jim Peltz

PHOENIX — The Dodgers, as former baseball announcer Ernie Harwell would say, are hoping to get "two for the price of one" a lot more often this season.

The team looks to turn more double plays now that shortstop Rafael Furcal is hooked up with second baseman Orlando Hudson, a three-time Gold Glove winner recently acquired by the Dodgers.

"It's great, they're two of the best," pitcher Clayton Kershaw said before starting Saturday's Cactus League game against the Milwaukee Brewers, which the Dodgers won, 7-3.

Furcal and Hudson "excel at their positions," Manager Joe Torre said but added that "the whole thing is -- and you keep your fingers crossed -- the health issue."

Furcal sat out 125 games last season because of an injured back. And Hudson, who spent the last three years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, dislocated a wrist in August and sat out the last two months of the season while recovering from surgery.

After Hudson, 31, joined the Dodgers in camp last month, he said the wrist was "no issue at all." And he and Furcal have been nearly inseparable in spring training.

"Mr. Torre keeps us on the same schedule," Hudson said. "So when [Furcal] plays, I play, and we can go into the season with that same momentum. We're pretty much already clicking together."

Torre has noticed, saying "they've been glued together here since Orlando has come on board."

General Manager Ned Colletti said "we have a chance to have the best middle infield that we've had here for a while, defensively."

Furcal, 28, and Hudson are "both in the upper levels of defensive play, both in range and athleticism," Colletti said. But he also said their prowess rides on whether "we can keep them both healthy."

There's another requirement needed for the Dodgers' double-play total to rise: The pitchers must get opposing batters to hit lots of grounders.

"We negate the whole thing if they don't get the ground ball," Torre said.

Starter Hiroki Kuroda said "I'm a pitcher who induces a lot of ground balls" and having Furcal and Hudson behind him means "I can pitch with a lot more confidence."

"Although it's only my second year here in the States, I played many years in Japan and I've met a lot of second-and-shortstop combinations," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "They're one of the best."

Pitching update

Kershaw gave up two earned runs and four hits in 3 2/3 innings against the Brewers. The runs included a two-out solo home run by center fielder Lorenzo Cain.

Kershaw was replaced by Ramon Troncoso, who hit two consecutive batters, Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy, but didn't surrender a run in 1 1/3 innings.

In an earlier "B" game against the Chicago White Sox, Eric Stults threw three scoreless innings, struck out three and walked none.

Stults "pitched well, used all his pitches," Torre said.

Asked whether Stults still was in the running to be the fifth starter this season, Torre said, "I think he has to be in the running. It's not fair to put people out of it when you don't have any clear-cut leader at this point."

In the meantime, the Dodgers' rotation now calls for Claudio Vargas to start today against the Colorado Rockies at the Dodgers' Camelback Ranch complex, with Kuroda and Jason Schmidt pitching on the road Monday in split-squad games against Seattle and Oakland, respectively.

Short hops

Valentino Pascucci hit a two-run home run and Russell Martin and Delwyn Young hit homers in the win against Milwaukee in front of a near-capacity crowd of 9,667 at Maryvale Baseball Park, the Brewers' spring home. . . . Manny Ramirez is expected back in the lineup today, either as the designated hitter or left fielder, Torre said. Ramirez didn't play Saturday after reaching base three times in his spring debut Friday.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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