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Schmidt’s decline remains mystery

Times Staff Writer

Which came first, the shoulder inflammation or the decreased velocity?

When it comes to pitcher Jason Schmidt, the Dodgers don’t know the answer.

“It’s truly a chicken and egg situation,” trainer Stan Conte said.

Conte has carefully retraced Schmidt’s spring training and three regular-season starts that preceded the right-hander’s diagnosis of bursitis that landed him on the disabled list.

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“When his velocity was down early in the spring, we talked about it,” Conte said “With any pitcher, you look at the next bullpen and his routine between starts to see if anything changes. He went through the entire spring and didn’t miss anything. We saw some increase in his velocity near the end and assumed he was going through the normal process of a pitcher getting ready for the season.”

Schmidt’s first regular-season start against the Milwaukee Brewers was no cause for alarm -- he gave up one run and three hits in five innings of a victory.

“Then he pitched the home opener and even through his velocity wasn’t improving, everything was normal,” Conte said. “In his last start, his velocity was now going down, and I thought we ought to look at whether there was a medical reason.”

He found one and Schmidt has not thrown a baseball in 13 days. Schmidt began strengthening exercises Friday and completed them without discomfort. But he is probably several weeks from returning.

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The Dodgers will take it slow with the pitcher they signed to a three-year, $47-million contract.

“We put the brakes on because of who he is,” Conte said. “He’s an important part of the team, he signed a big contract and there’s been anxiety from everyone.”

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Spring training is nearly over for Rafael Furcal. The Dodgers shortstop missed the last nine days of March and the first two weeks of the season because of an ankle injury. Only now is he feeling comfortable at the plate.

“Spring training helps a lot because you get at-bats and see a lot of pitches,” he said. “I wasn’t able to do that.

“If it takes me 100 at-bats to feel right, then I still have 500 more, that’s how I think of it.”

After going one for four Friday, he’s at 61. Too many have ended prematurely, with Furcal feebly hitting a pitch out of the strike zone. He has walked only five times.

“It’s hard for me to recognize pitches right now,” he said. “My approach right after the injury was to be aggressive and try to hit the ball hard. Now I’m starting to be more patient.”

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Last season Furcal hobbled through April while recovering from knee surgery, then heated up, batting .317 with 15 home runs after May 1.

“He’s right on the verge of busting it loose again,” Manager Grady Little said.

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Dodgers minor league pitcher Jonathan Figueroa has been suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. His suspension will take effect June 19, the date of the first game for the Class-A Ogden Raptors.

Figueroa, from Venezuela, was signed in 2002 and is 16-29 with a 5.26 earned-run average in five seasons. He was 1-7 with a 7.29 ERA at Class-A Vero Beach last year.

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Frank Jobe, the Dodgers’ orthopedic physician since 1968, had surgery last week to correct spinal stenosis -- a condition that causes narrowing of the spine -- and is resting comfortably. The surgery was performed by his former partner, Robert Watkins, the same physician who operated on Eric Gagne’s herniated disk last year.

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steve.henson@latimes.com


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