Cruz Could Soon Learn Just How He Stacks Up

Times Staff Writer

If Jose Cruz Jr. is the least bit worried about the 6-foot-6 shadow looming over his shoulder, he disguised it well Wednesday.

Cruz is penciled in as the Dodger left fielder. But top prospect Joel Guzman has been moved from shortstop to left field -- primarily because the front office believes the new position will be his quickest route to the big leagues.

That isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of Cruz, a nine-year veteran who batted .301 in 47 games after being acquired from Boston in August and was signed to a one-year contract during the off-season.

"Whether there are 10 guys there or none, it doesn't change my approach," he said. "I have no concerns. I'll go out there and do what I do."

Cruz was unaware Guzman had become a left fielder. At first he wasn't sure who Guzman was. Told he was "the big guy who has been at shortstop," Cruz said, "He has great ability."

Cruz, a .250 lifetime hitter with 193 home runs, broke into the big leagues in 1997 as a left fielder. He moved to center with Toronto and became a right fielder for San Francisco in 2003, when he won a Gold Glove.

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Guzman began his crash course in outfield play from bench coach Dave Jauss, who believes his pupil could become capable enough to start opening day at Dodger Stadium.

More important is how well Guzman hits in spring games.

"When his bat is ready, you make his glove ready," Jauss said. "He could be proficient in a month."

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Grapefruit League play begins today at Holman Stadium with the Dodgers playing host to the Atlanta Braves.

Brad Penny will pitch the first two innings. Others scheduled to pitch include veteran Aaron Sele, newly acquired reliever Lance Carter and left-hander Kelly Wunsch.

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Cruz, Ricky Ledee and Olmedo Saenz will leave for their World Baseball Classic teams after the game.

Saenz said he expects to play nine innings in all three first-round games for Panama, but he isn't sure whether he will play first base or third base.

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Reliever Yhency Brazoban threw for the first time since having shoulder pain a few days ago, and the result was encouraging.

"I got a good positive word about Brazoban," Manager Grady Little said. "He had a good look in his face when he was throwing."

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Shortstop Rafael Furcal, who is recovering from minor knee surgery, told Little that he would be able to play in a game in a few days. ... Second baseman Jeff Kent, who is recovering from minor wrist surgery, took batting practice for the second day in a row. ... Outfielder J.D. Drew, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, will play Friday against the Braves. ... Odalis Perez and Derek Lowe threw live batting practice and are scheduled to pitch Sunday against the New York Mets. ... Jaime Jarrin, Charley Steiner and Steve Lyons will serve as broadcasters at the World Baseball Classic and former Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela will help coach the Mexican team.

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