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Players Meet to Discuss Goals

Times Staff Writer

Jeff Kent planted the seed, mentioning to Milton Bradley that a players-only meeting might be beneficial. Bradley made it happen, closing the clubhouse doors Tuesday and speaking about leadership, chemistry and breaking spring training with a unified purpose.

The Dodgers have so many new players that Bradley, in his second year, is almost an elder statesman. Among regulars, only shortstop Cesar Izturis has been with the team longer.

“Sometimes you can sense something in the air,” Bradley said. “We’ve had a quiet clubhouse. That’s OK. Every team has its own identity. But it seemed to Jeff and I that we all needed to make sure we were on the same page before we went to Los Angeles.”

Jayson Werth, who like Bradley is in his second season with the team, spoke next. Then Eric Gagne, the senior Dodger, had something to say. Finally, Kent stepped forward and talked about what he believes is necessary to win.

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“It’s important for us to communicate with one another, for anybody to feel comfortable talking if they have something to say,” Bradley said. “We made it clear to younger and newer guys that anybody can say anything. Don’t be shy.”

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Antonio Perez is not ready to platoon at third base with Jose Valentin, Manager Jim Tracy said.

Perez, a good hitter and solid second baseman, has admitted he is uncomfortable playing third, and it shows, throwing a wrench into the platoon General Manager Paul DePodesta envisioned during the off-season.

With the season only a week away, Tracy said Perez needs more work before he can play the position with any regularity.

“It has a ways to go, there is no question about that,” Tracy said. “There may be some situations early on. But will I be at a maximum comfort level? No.”

Valentin, a switch-hitter, has had little success batting from the right side and last season batted exclusively left-handed. He went back to switch-hitting this spring.

“I’m switch-hitting because I want to play as often as possible,” he said. “The difference is that I have no power from the right side.”

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The only other viable option at third base is Norihiro Nakamura, who is expected to begin the season at triple-A Las Vegas because the Dodgers will carry 12 pitchers.

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Hee-Seop Choi has gone from telling himself, “no, no, no,” as a pitch approaches to saying “yes, yes, yes.” Instead of looking for a walk, he is looking to drive the ball.

In the Dodgers’ 4-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday, he hit a home run and struck out twice while going one for four. He did not walk.

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“I like walk, but I swing now,” the Korean first baseman said without an interpreter. “Now I like swing. No more walk.”

Choi’s selectivity is one reason he is a favorite of DePodesta because walks boost a hitter’s on-base percentage. But batting coach Tim Wallach is encouraging Choi to swing more often.

Choi is listening.

“I say I had a big problem, but Tim Wallach says I have a little problem,” Choi said. “I talk to Tim before the game and during the game every day.”

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Wallach suggested that Choi move his hands back slightly as he takes his stride to help develop rhythm. Choi, who is batting .217 with two home runs in 46 at-bats, often had looked mechanical at the plate.

“Today I tried to hit a homer,” he said. “I’m ready for opening day.”

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Brad Penny threw 48 pitches in three innings of a simulated game in a batting cage, impressing Tracy.

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“That was far and away the best he’s looked,” he said. “He threw the ball terrific. He let everything go, and that was fantastic.”

Nevertheless, Penny said he would remain at Dodgertown when the team heads to Los Angeles after Thursday’s Grapefruit League finale. He will pitch against minor league hitters and in minor league games before joining the Dodgers at some point after the season begins.

Werth, who is making a slow recovery from a wrist injury, also is expected to continue his rehabilitation in Vero Beach rather than Los Angeles.

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Scott Erickson gave up eight hits and two walks in five innings, but gave up only one unearned run and pitched out of several jams.

Left-hander Kelly Wunsch struck out the side in the seventh inning, solidifying his spot on the roster.


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