Perez Has Own Plan for Classic

Times Staff Writer

Dodger officials were under the impression pitcher Odalis Perez would not join the Dominican Republic team for the World Baseball Classic until the day before his start Thursday against Italy.

Perez, however, has a different plan.

"I need to spend at least three days with the team," he said. "I want to be with those guys."

Even though he would be watching from the bullpen, Perez doesn't want to miss the opening game Tuesday against archrival Venezuela, which like the Dominican team is loaded with top major leaguers.

He is scheduled to pitch two innings for the Dodgers in an exhibition Sunday against the New York Mets, which would give him only three days' rest before his WBC start.

"If that's the way it is, I'll do it," he said.

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Coming to camp a week early and spending late afternoons learning the intricacies of first base are already paying off for Nomar Garciaparra.

In his first game at the position, Garciaparra made two fine backhand plays in the third inning of the Dodgers' 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday in the Grapefruit League opener at Holman Stadium.

"It's good to get plays like that," Garciaparra said. "I want plays of all kinds right now. I'll make plays and mess up plays, but you can't simulate that in practice."

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Brave Manager Bobby Cox remembers Grady Little as a reliable batting practice pitcher when Cox was managing a Class-A team in Fort Lauderdale in 1971.

That's not the compliment it might seem, because Little was still playing as a backup catcher.

"That's when I knew I had a future in coaching," Little said.

Sitting on a slope beyond the right-field fence at Holman Stadium before the game between the Dodgers and Braves, Cox thought he saw Little throwing batting practice once again.

He was corrected when his former player walked up behind him and gave him a hug. It was actually coach Dave Jauss doing the tossing.

"My eyes aren't so great anymore," Cox said.

Little, 55, cemented his relationship with Cox, 64, when he managed Brave minor league teams from 1988 to 1995.

Cox has managed the Braves for 21 seasons, the Toronto Blue Jays for four, and been named manager of the year four times.

"He's a person I admire," Little said. "I respect everything he's done in the game, and the results speak for themselves."

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Little and several Dodger players commented before the game about the absence of screens to protect fans sitting above the makeshift dugout areas. Sure enough, a woman was hit in the head by Bill Mueller's foul drive in the third inning. She declined an ambulance and was taken for medical treatment by her husband.... Closer Eric Gagne went home to Scottsdale, Ariz., for two days for family reasons. He is scheduled to make his first pitching appearance Wednesday.... Lance Carter, acquired along with Danys Baez from Tampa Bay in an off-season trade, retired the six batters he faced, striking out two.... Top prospect Matt Kemp threw out the potential tying run at home plate to end the eighth inning after catching a fly ball in right field.... Brett Tomko will start against the Braves today at Kissimmee, Fla. Brian Meadows, Franquelis Osoria, Joe Beimel and Takashi Saito also are scheduled to pitch.... Former Dodgers Jerry Reuss, Steve Yeager and Tom Goodwin will be guest analysts on seven spring-training radio broadcasts on 980.

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