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Perez Probably Will Be Used as Starter

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

If Odalis Perez opens the season with the Dodgers--and there is every indication the left-hander will do so--it probably will be as a starter, not a reliever, Manager Jim Tracy said Thursday.

Perez threw four shutout innings in Thursday’s 4-1 exhibition loss to St. Louis, giving up two hits, striking out two and walking none, an outing Tracy said was “as good as any pitching performance we’ve seen all spring.” Perez has given up three earned runs and 11 hits in 13 innings.

Perez, right-hander Eric Gagne, who hasn’t given up an earned run in 12 innings, and left-hander Omar Daal are battling for the fifth rotation spot. Perez, acquired from Atlanta in the Gary Sheffield trade, struggled as a reliever last season, giving up eight earned runs in 82/3 innings for an 8.31 earned-run average, compared to a 4.57 ERA in 16 starts.

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Tracy also said he’s giving more consideration to the possibility of using Gagne, who has a 95-mph fastball, as a short reliever--and maybe a closer--if he doesn’t win a rotation spot. Gagne’s only experience as a closer was with the Canadian national team, but he would welcome the opportunity.

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Andy Ashby continued to struggle in his return from elbow surgery, giving up a two-out, two-run homer on his first pitch to Albert Pujols in the first inning and a solo home run on an 0-2 pitch to Mike DiFelice in the second. The right-hander retired the side in order in the third but took a Tony Mota comebacker to the back of his right calf in the process.

“I’m trying to be too fine, instead of just being aggressive when I’m ahead in the count,” Ashby said. “I feel good, my tempo was better, and so was my curve. But the main thing is location. I have to be able to put the ball where I want to.”

Ashby’s fastball topped out at 88 mph, about three under its usual peak.

“I don’t feel I have my velocity back, but they say that’s the last thing to come,” Ashby said.

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Kevin Brown, who experienced elbow stiffness after Sunday’s start, will start against Florida tonight.... Brian Jordan made his first exhibition start in center field and shortstop Cesar Izturis made his second start in the leadoff spot, moves Tracy said he will make again.... Center-field candidate Dave Roberts will be sidelined for a few days because of a strained right thigh muscle.... Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Assn., met with the Dodgers Thursday morning. He said that, despite reports, the union has no plans to boycott the All-Star game in Milwaukee in July.


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