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Dodgers' Rafael Furcal thinks he is close to returning

Shortstop took batting practice and ground balls for first time since breaking thumb three weeks ago.

May 07, 2011|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Rafael Furcal, shown during batting practice on March 10, said he thinks he will be ready to rejoin the Dodgers after three or four minor-league games. The shortstop broke his left thumb three weeks ago.
Rafael Furcal, shown during batting practice on March 10, said he thinks… (Christopher Hanewinckel…)

reporting from new york — Taking batting practice for the first time since he broke his left thumb three weeks ago, Rafael Furcal said he thinks he will be able to start a minor league rehabilitation by the middle of this week.

"I'm excited," Furcal said.

Furcal also took ground balls, another first.

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Furcal said he thinks he will be ready to rejoin the Dodgers after three or four minor league games.

Part of that is because he has maintained a rigorous conditioning program while sidelined.

"My body is in great shape," Furcal said.

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But there's a checklist of tasks Furcal must complete before he starts playing in games again.

He has to be able to hit from the right side. (He batted only left-handed Saturday because his thumb hurts when he hits right-handed.)

And he has to be able to apply a tag at second base without feeling any pain.

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So, even though Furcal is aiming to play in a few days, trainer Stan Conte said he didn't have a target date for his return.

In Furcal's absence, utility man Jamey Carroll has started at shortstop. With Carroll at short, Casey Blake on the disabled list and Juan Uribe at third base, Aaron Miles has become the Dodgers' regular second baseman.

On the night Furcal was hurt, he said the setback made him consider retirement.

With his return perhaps less than two weeks away, Furcal said the end of his career was nowhere on his mind.

"I'm still young," Furcal said. "I still think I can play four, five more years."

Furcal, 33, is in the final guaranteed year of his three-year, $30-million contract with the Dodgers.

The deal includes a $12-million club option that vests if Furcal makes 600 plate appearances this year — a mark he is unlikely to reach because of the time he has missed.

Furcal was hitting .192 in seven games when he was injured.

Lineup shuffle

James Loney batted second as part of Manager Don Mattingly's effort to jumpstart the Dodgers' stagnant offense.

In the nine games leading up to Saturday's game at Citi Field, the Dodgers had scored only 23 runs. They were held to two or fewer runs five times in that span.

"We obviously haven't been a juggernaut," Mattingly said.

Of the lineup, he said, "It's not quite pulling it out of the hat, but I wanted to change the feel a little bit."

Loney, who had batted exclusively in the fifth or sixth spots, entered the game hitting only .217. But the slumping first baseman has looked better as of late, as he went into the game Saturday batting .385 (10 for 26) over his previous nine games.

He has played superb defense. The only error charged to him this season came on an interference call.

Loney turned 27 years old on Saturday.

He was two for four with a walk.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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