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Mueller Not Giving Up on Comeback

Times Staff Writer

A Kirk Gibson moment would be a longshot, obviously. But a few quality at-bats from the perhaps permanently hobbled Bill Mueller during a pennant race is something the Dodgers hoped might come to pass.

Mueller hasn’t given up on the idea. He’s with the team, dresses in his uniform and cheers from the dugout.

More importantly, he has taken batting practice in private, testing the balky right knee that has kept him on the disabled list since May 12. Manager Grady Little asked him how it went. So did General Manager Ned Colletti. The answer wasn’t encouraging.

“It just didn’t respond,” Mueller said. “It swells up pretty quick.”

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He plans to get back in the batting cage before Sept. 1, when the Dodgers roster can be expanded from 25 to 40 players.

“It’s worth a try,” he said.

Little is crossing his fingers.

“I told him all he has to do is run to first base,” he said. “We’ll have plenty of guys who can pinch-run.”

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Julio Lugo has already said he isn’t happy with his role since coming to the Dodgers at the trading deadline. He was the starting shortstop for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and now he’s juggling five positions while spending considerable time on the bench.

The situation won’t change unless someone is injured. He will play third base against left-handed pitchers and give second baseman Jeff Kent and shortstop Rafael Furcal an occasional day off. He might fill in for an outfielder once in a while.

And he will come off the bench in a blowout as he did Saturday night after the Dodgers scored seven runs in the second inning to take a 10-0 lead. Kent left the game because he felt a slight twinge in his side fielding a ground ball in the first inning.

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To Lugo’s credit, he says he won’t let his displeasure disrupt the Dodgers’ quest for a championship.

“The adjustment he’s had to make is difficult, and he’s made it very well,” Little said.

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Little said the top three starters in the rotation -- Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Greg Maddux -- will pitch every five days through the rest of the season, meaning starts by Chad Billingsley and Mark Hendrickson could be less frequent.

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“We’ll run Penny, Lowe and Maddux out there whenever their regular turns come around,” he said. “We want to give ourselves the best chance to win every game from here on out.”

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Giants left fielder Barry Bonds left the game after the Dodgers burst to their 10-0 lead in the second inning and probably won’t play today because of a sore back. Bonds is 0 for 5 in the series.

“He had a little bit of a back problem,” Giants Manager Felipe Alou said. “He did not look good in the first at-bat [Saturday].”

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