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Optimism Reigns as Season Begins

Times Staff Writers

Well, here they go.

The Dodgers open the season today against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Bank One Ballpark, hoping it will end with their first National League West title since 1995.

There’s a buzz in the clubhouse as the Dodgers believe they’re finally on par with baseball’s best again, and here’s their chance to show progress.

“The Diamondbacks are always going to be tough as long as they have Randy [Johnson] and Curt [Schilling], and the Giants may have gotten even better with a lot of the moves they made in the off-season,” catcher Paul Lo Duca said. “But no disrespect, we feel like we’ve got as good a club as anybody.

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“You can’t just talk about it, you have to go out there and prove it, and that’s what we’ve been looking forward to since last season ended. We feel like we have everything we need, and we can prove that by getting off to a good start.”

As if they needed a reminder about the challenges ahead, the Dodgers face Johnson, a five-time Cy Young Award winner, today, and 23-game winner Schilling in the second game. However, the Dodgers believe their rotation could be second to none because injury-plagued right-handers Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort are back in the mix after sensational performances in spring training.

Apparently, others agree.

“That’s arguably adding a No. 1 and No. 2 to [a] rotation that has been very good in the past,” Arizona Manager Bob Brenly said.

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“Coupled with the emergence of some guys last year, it makes them just that much deeper.”

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The Dodgers’ opening-day lineup: Dave Roberts, center field; Lo Duca, catcher; Shawn Green, right field; Brian Jordan, left field; Fred McGriff, first base; Adrian Beltre, third base; Jolbert Cabrera, second base; Cesar Izturis, shortstop; Hideo Nomo, pitcher.

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ON DECK

Opponent -- Arizona Diamondbacks, three games.

Site -- Bank One Ballpark, Phoenix.

Today -- 2 p.m. PST.

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TV -- Fox Sports Net 2 today and Tuesday.

Radio -- KFWB (980), KWKW (1330).

2002 records -- Dodgers 92-70, Diamondbacks 98-64.

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TODAY

DODGERS’ HIDEO NOMO

(16-6, 3.39 ERA)

vs. ARIZONA’S RANDY JOHNSON

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(24-5, 2.32 ERA)

Update -- Nomo pitched well against the Diamondbacks last season, giving up three earned runs in 22 innings. Johnson is 5-1 with a 2.59 earned-run average against the Dodgers in the last three seasons. In 80 innings spanning 11 starts, the five-time Cy Young Award winner has 86 strikeouts and 19 walks. He has limited L.A. to a .222 batting average.

Tuesday, 5:30 p.m. -- Odalis Perez (15-10, 3.00) vs. Curt Schilling (23-7, 3.23).

Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. -- Kevin Brown (3-4, 4.81) vs. Elmer Dessens (7-8, 3.03).


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