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DODGERS SPRING REPORT

Dodgers' Rafael Furcal is feeling 'normal'

And that's a good sign for the shortstop, who hasn't missed any spring action because of his surgically-repaired back.

March 23, 2009|Dylan Hernandez

PHOENIX — Rafael Furcal leaned back in his chair and smiled.

"When you're not doing well, you're not doing well," he said.

Furcal was talking about his batting average, which was hovering around .200. But that was of no concern to him, he said.

The more important figure was the number of games he's had to miss in the exhibition season because of his surgically-repaired back: zero.

"Every now and then I'm a little scared but I feel fine," he said. "I feel normal. I haven't felt anything."

Particularly on defense.

Furcal said that wasn't the case when he returned late last year from midseason back surgery.

"When the ball was hit to my right and I had to reach down and across my body, it bothered me a lot," he said.

Furcal, who re-signed with the Dodgers this winter for three years at $30 million, said he feels like the player he was early last season -- at least on defense.

Third base coach Larry Bowa, who won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop, agreed.

"It doesn't look like anything's bothering him," Bowa said. "He's making backhanded plays even. He gets extension now."

Bowa was pleased that Furcal has maintained a core-strengthening program to ensure that he doesn't re-injure his back.

Furcal played into the sixth inning of the Dodgers' 11-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on Sunday, marking the second time this spring he has played in consecutive games. He started to look more comfortable at the plate, as he was three for six in the two games to raise his spring average to .220.

I'm b-a-a-a-ck . . . again

Manny Ramirez is scheduled to play in his first game in a week today when the Dodgers visit the Angels in Tempe, Ariz. Ramirez, who was sidelined with tightness in his left hamstring, will be the Dodgers' designated hitter.

Ramirez said his leg feels fine. "I feel like I'm 20 years old," he said.

Reminded that he recently said that felt old, Ramirez replied, "Yeah, but now I feel young."

Estes cut

Shawn Estes was told by Manager Joe Torre that he was no longer a candidate to make the Dodgers' opening day roster, leaving four pitchers to compete to be the fifth starter: Claudio Vargas, James McDonald, Eric Milton and Eric Stults.

Estes has the option to go to triple-A Albuquerque or ask for his release. He asked the Dodgers for some time to make up his mind.

"That's depressing, thinking about going to pitch in Albuquerque," the former All-Star said. "I might as well go pitch on the moon."

Estes declared at the start of camp that he would retire if he didn't make a major league club this spring but said on Sunday that he did so mostly to motivate himself.

Short hops

Andre Ethier continued to struggle at the plate, as he was 0 for 5 with two strikeouts. Ethier's spring average is .188. . . . Randy Wolf, who is slated to be the Dodgers' No. 2 starter, pitched six scoreless innings. Wolf limited the Rangers to a hit and two walks. He struck out six and drove in the Dod- gers' first runs on a two-run double in the second inning. . . . Backup shortstop candidate Chin-lung Hu got a hit in his only at-bat and raised his average to .313. . . . Pitchers Charlie Haeger, Nick DeBarr and Stephen Randolph, middle infielder Hector Luna, and outfielders Valentino Pascucci and Mitch Jones were reassigned to minor league camp.

--

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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