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Right Field Belongs to Mondesi, but Left and Center Up for Grabs

The season began Tuesday for the Dodgers, but auditions for leading roles in the outfield will continue.

And only one member of the current trio is secure.

The 6-0 opening-day loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium didn’t help Manager Bill Russell determine his long-term outfield situation. The series ends today.

“You have to produce to stay in the lineup, and these guys know that,” Russell said. “There are a lot of guys on this team who can help us, and we have confidence in everyone we have.”

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Barring injury, right fielder Raul Mondesi will be in the everyday lineup. The two-time Gold Glove winner appears to be the only stabilizing force in an unsettled outfield.

Center fielder Trenidad Hubbard is still fighting to emerge from the crowded pack, which includes Roger Cedeno, Mike Devereaux, Thomas Howard and Matt Luke. Things were supposed to be sorted in spring training, but roles remain undefined because of injuries.

Even left fielder Todd Hollandsworth, who is being relied on for left-handed power, isn’t assured of anything.

Cedeno, who is on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained right hamstring, is expected to return for the home opener Tuesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was the projected starter in center but played in only three of 29 exhibition games after suffering the injury on March 2.

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He has remained in Vero Beach, Fla., to undergo rehabilitation and play in minor league games, and is expected to arrive in Los Angeles on Monday. Russell will determine how much he plays based on reports about his performance in Vero Beach, and his observations.

“When a guy has been out as long as he has, you don’t know how long it’s going to take for him to get his timing back,” he said. “It’s not just about his swing, you also have to see how his legs respond.”

But assuming Cedeno is sound, Hubbard, who went 0 for 2 against the Cardinals, will return to the bench. Then things get interesting.

Because of touted rookie Paul Konerko, Cedeno and Hollandsworth face pressure to start well. The Dodgers’ are committed to having Konerko in the lineup, and he worked in left field during much of the exhibition season.

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Konerko is starting at first base in the absence of Eric Karros, who is on the 15-day disabled list after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. But Konerko will move to the outfield when Karros returns, leaving either Cedeno or Hollandsworth without a job.

Hollandsworth seems to have the advantage in the outfield derby because of his success in 1996, when he won the rookie-of-the-year award. But he isn’t taking anything for granted, especially after he batted .247 last season.

“You can’t expect anything to be given to you in this game, you have to earn everything you get, and that’s fine with me,” said Hollandsworth, who was 0 for 2 Tuesday.

“I feel good about my swing, and good about the things I’m doing out there. As far as last season is concerned, that has been out of my mind since it ended. I’m totally focused on this season.”

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The Dodgers are also under pressure to have a good start, because of their problems in April and May last season, so Russell won’t wait long to make changes. Hubbard and Howard may well become factors yet.

“We know we’ll have decisions to make,” Russell said. “But we don’t have to make them right now, we’ll make them when we have to.”

TODAY’S GAME

DODGERS’ CHAN HO PARK (14-8, 3.38) vs. CARDINALS’ CLIFF POLITTE (0-0, 0.00)

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Radio--1150 AM, KWKW (1330).

Busch Stadium, 10:30 a.m. PST

* Update--The Dodgers hope to rebound behind Park. The right-hander emerged as a stopper during his breakthrough sophomore season, winning nine games after Dodger defeats. He also won five consecutive decisions in July, and nine of his last 12. He was 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA against the Cardinals in two games. Park, who is second in the rotation behind Ramon Martinez, will start the home opener on Tuesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Politte, a native of St. Louis, was selected the Cardinals’ minor league pitcher of the year last season when the right-hander had combined 15-2 record with a 2.22 ERA . He was 4-1 with a 1.10 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings in the exhibition season.


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