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Latest Change of Positions Is Seconded by Izturis

Times Staff Writer

The Dodgers and Cesar Izturis have had something of an Ali-Frazier relationship this season -- mutual respect interrupted by memorable episodes of fury.

So the Dodgers were heartened that the slick-fielding infielder responded to his latest position change -- moving from third base to second beginning today -- not with anger but eagerness.

Izturis, a Gold Glove shortstop two years ago, is no closer to returning to his natural position, but at least he can view it from the right side for a while.

“Second is easier than third,” he said. “I agreed to play third to help the team win. I just want to play every day. I don’t want to sit on the bench.”

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That won’t happen for at least 10 to 14 days, the length of time second baseman Jeff Kent is expected to remain on the disabled list. Wilson Betemit, acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Braves on Friday, will play third beginning today.

What will become of Izturis when Kent is healthy? “Ask them,” Izturis said, referring to the front office. “Something is going to happen.”

Trading Izturis before the non-waiver deadline Monday is unlikely. General Manager Ned Colletti likes the versatility he provides and his willingness to change positions. Animosity stemming from Izturis’ declining a request to play the outfield and taking four days off instead of two when his wife gave birth seems to have dissipated.

“I like Izturis, as a player and as a person,” Colletti said. “I appreciate what he’s done for the club.”

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Acquiring Betemit was a coup for Colletti if only because the infielder nearly went to the rival San Diego Padres instead. The Padres balked at the Braves’ asking price of reliever Scott Linebrink.

The Braves settled for reliever Danys Baez and infielder Willy Aybar. Betemit is considered a significant upgrade from Aybar, especially in his power potential.

Betemit, 26, has nine home runs and 16 doubles in 88 games. However, his standing as a top prospect had slipped because he spent nearly three seasons in triple A before breaking into the major leagues for good last season. He was signed in 1996 out of the Dominican Republic.

Betemit could become a roadblock for Dodgers top prospect Andy LaRoche, the third baseman at triple-A Las Vegas. Colletti, however, likes a competitive environment.

If LaRoche develops into a standout third baseman, Betemit could contribute similarly to the Milwaukee Brewers’ Bill Hall, playing nearly every day but at multiple positions.

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Shortstop Rafael Furcal homered to lead off the Dodgers’ first and also singled, raising his batting average to .302 since May 1. . . . Brett Tomko had mild soreness the day after his first relief appearance but was available.

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