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Major League Debut for Debus Was Worth Wait

Times Staff Writer

As a player, Jon Debus spent 10 seasons in the Dodger farm system, six at triple-A Albuquerque. He never was called to Los Angeles.

As a manager and coach, Debus spent the last 15 years in minor league towns, never stepping into a major league clubhouse, never taking the charter flight west from Vero Beach to Los Angeles after spring training.

Until Thursday. Debus, the first-year Dodger bullpen coach, settled into his seat on the flight west and reflected on 25 years of riding buses.

“To say I’m excited is the understatement of all time,” he said.

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Debus, a roving instructor the last three years, was promoted by Manager Jim Tracy when Jim Lett moved from bullpen coach to bench coach because bench coach Jim Riggleman had taken a position with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I saw how Jon went about his business the last three years and was very impressed,” Tracy said. “It was time he was rewarded for his loyalty to the organization.”

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Another loyal Dodger coach, Manny Mota, might not be allowed to sit in the dugout when the season begins. Mota is the seventh coach on the staff, and Major League Baseball says it plans to enforce a long-standing rule that allows only six coaches in the dugout.

Mota, 67, a Dodger coach for 26 years, has sat in the dugout in recent years because Tracy ignored the rule and opponents did not protest. Some other teams have seven coaches too.

“Manny’s value plays itself out way before the game starts,” Tracy said. “We had a brief discussion and we will abide by the rule.”

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Tracy said before the Dodgers’ 3-0 victory over the New York Mets that Elmer Dessens would start the fourth game of the season at Arizona.

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Dessens promptly went out and pitched four scoreless innings in relief of Derek Lowe, who began the game with three perfect innings. Eric Gagne threw a 1-2-3 eighth and Steve Schmoll, a sidearm-throwing minor leaguer, pitched the ninth.

Schmoll, 25, was not invited to major league camp because he’d pitched extensively in the Arizona fall league and needed a break. But there is no doubt he is a prospect.

“He is trying to send a message, obviously,” Tracy said. “This kid is on a mission to pitch in the big leagues. He has devastating stuff and devastating deception.”

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Gagne said he would pitch one inning Saturday against the Angels. The knee sprain he suffered six weeks ago is nearly healed, although he said, “It’s still there.”

In four spring innings, he has struck out six, walked one and has not given up a run.

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Left fielder Jayson Werth and pitchers Brad Penny and Wilson Alvarez stayed in Vero Beach to continue rehabilitating from injuries. All will open the season on the disabled list.

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Penny will pitch in a minor league game Sunday. An optimistic target date for his return is April 19 at Milwaukee. That will be the second time the Dodgers need a fifth starter behind Lowe, Odalis Perez, Jeff Weaver and Scott Erickson.

Werth’s recovery might take longer than that of Penny and Alvarez.

“It’s going to be a while for him,” Tracy said. “He has to hit on a consistent basis. Then he has to play in some minor league games.”

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Kazuhisa Ishii, traded to the Mets by the Dodgers two weeks ago, gave up one run in 5 2/3 innings on a home run by rookie Jason Repko.... Hee-Seop Choi hit a two-run homer in the ninth for the other Dodger runs.

Jeff Kent played first base for the first time this spring.... The victory was the Dodgers’ seventh in their last nine Grapefruit League games and gave them a record of 13-12-3.


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