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Only One Spot Isn’t Set

Times Staff Writer

It’s a mad scramble for the last locker in the clubhouse. As many as 35 Dodger players will make the trip to Los Angeles for the Freeway Series, but the regular-season roster holds 25, and only one spot appears uncertain.

The Dodgers will carry 12 pitchers, Manager Jim Tracy reiterated Wednesday, meaning there is no room for third baseman Norihiro Nakamura or utility infielder Oscar Robles unless Olmedo Saenz or Antonio Perez is released.

Don’t count on it, General Manager Paul DePodesta says. Saenz is a proven clutch hitter off the bench, and the versatile Perez is batting .319.

So even though Nakamura had a two-run home run in the 10th inning to give the Dodgers a 9-8 victory over the Houston Astros and Robles went three for three with a homer, their days wearing a Dodger uniform are dwindling for now.

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Nakamura, who in 11 full seasons in Japan won five Gold Gloves and hit 305 home runs, is expected to open the season at triple-A Las Vegas despite batting .290 with three home runs in 41 spring at-bats.

Robles, who batted .382 with 11 strikeouts and 62 walks in 335 at-bats in the Mexican League last season, probably will return to his team in Mexico City, despite batting .414 in 32 spring at-bats and exhibiting the ability to play second, third and shortstop.

He is under contract with Mexico City, and came to spring training on the condition that he return if he doesn’t make the Dodger roster. Robles, 28, would prefer Las Vegas to Mexico and hope for a call-up.

“This is making me crazy,” he said. “I’d love to stay. The owner in Mexico is a good guy so we’ll see what happens.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, Robles had not been told whether he would accompany the team for the Freeway Series.

“Nobody has said anything to me,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to L.A., staying in Vero, or going back to Mexico.”

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Rookie right-hander D.J. Houlton will make the team, DePodesta said. After pitching four scoreless innings against the Astros, Houlton says he believes he belongs.

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“I’d love nothing more than to pitch in front of family and friends,” said Houlton, who is from Yorba Linda. “To pitch at Dodger Stadium, that’s unbelievable.”

Houlton was left unprotected by the Astros and was picked by the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft. He must stay on the 25-man roster all season or the Astros can reclaim him.

After his performance Wednesday, there is little doubt they would do so. He pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the third inning created by a pop-fly single that Perez should have caught. Another pop-fly, this one in foul territory, was dropped by Hee-Seop Choi with two out, but Houlton struck out Jason Lane.

“Tracy said that was the most important thing in the outing,” Houlton said. “He told me, ‘You picked up your teammates.’ ”

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Catcher David Ross, made expendable when the Dodgers acquired Jason Phillips, was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for $75,000. Ross was three for 20 this spring, and batted .170 last season. “David leaves here knowing he was part of a divisional championship team,” Tracy said. “He was a class professional the entire time he was here.” Ross has a chance to make the Pirate roster as a backup to Benito Santiago.... Either Ryan Rupe or Buddy Carlyle will make the team as the 12th pitcher if left-hander Wilson Alvarez begins the season on the disabled list as expected. Rupe didn’t help his cause, giving up six runs to the Astros in 2 1/3 innings. Carlyle gave up a home run in two-thirds of an inning but has 14 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.... New York Met left-hander Kazuhisa Ishii will start against his former Dodger teammates in today’s Grapefruit League finale in Port St. Lucie.


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