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Saito says he hopes to be back next year

Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Takashi Saito didn’t want to discuss in detail his plans for next season while in the midst of a pennant race, but he made this much clear: He wants to pitch for the Dodgers again.

“My hope is to play here,” Saito said. “I haven’t thought about the contract or any of the small things, so I don’t have too much to say. But my hope is to play again next season.”

The 37-year old closer from Japan wouldn’t say what he might do if another team offered more money than the Dodgers.

At the end of last season, Saito was unclear about his intentions for 2007, saying he had to speak with his wife and two daughters, who live in Japan.

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But this year, instead of waiting until the off-season to have that conversation with his family, he discussed the matter with them when they visited him last month.

“They told me to do what I want,” he said. And what he wanted from the start, he said, was to be back for a third season.

Aside from a battle with stiffness in his shoulder in late July, this has been a dream season for Saito. He made the All-Star team and his 37 saves are tied for third in the National League with Trevor Hoffman. He converted 10 of 10 save opportunities in August and was named the major leagues’ reliever of the month.

Rafael Furcal was given a rare day off, sitting out a game for the first time since May 26.

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“He’s one of the most important players we have on the field and we certainly don’t like it when he’s not out there and that’s why it doesn’t happen very often,” Manager Grady Little said.

Furcal has been hindered all season by the ankle he sprained in spring training. He said it hasn’t fully healed.

“It’s really affected him,” Little said. “It’s hard to say to what degree, but we know it has affected his running. That stat sheet will show that.”

Furcal had 37 steals last season, but has only 17 this year. He hit .158 in the first nine games of the Dodgers’ 10-game trip and is 0 for his last 16.

Furcal will be playing on two days’ rest when the Dodgers play their next game Tuesday. They are off today.

The three-game visit to San Francisco was particularly meaningful to Mark Sweeney, who was with the Giants until the Dodgers acquired him in a trade Aug. 9.

Sweeney joined the Giants last season and became one of the most popular players in the clubhouse.

“It is strange coming back here, but it’s also nice to think about the people that you miss,” Sweeney said. “Those relationships aren’t going to change. They’re going to be in different areas.”

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Sweeney said he had breakfast Friday with Dave Roberts, who lives near him in San Diego.

Sweeney said he also misses the former Giants who routinely pass through their clubhouse. He used to see Willie Mays and Willie McCovey on a regular basis. He also had conversations with Will Clark and Robby Thompson.

“That stuff was valuable for us, to see the history of the game,” he said. “That’s what these two franchises have.”

Hong-Chih Kuo’s chances of returning this season appear to be dwindling. He scrapped plans to throw Sunday and will undergo what trainer Stan Conte called a “routine exam” with Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Tuesday.

“I want to make sure he can do his normal off-season preparation to get ready for spring training,” Conte said.

But Conte hasn’t completely eliminated the possibility of Kuo pitching again this season. He said Kuo’s arm is close to full strength and that he could be ready to compete after a few bullpen sessions over a seven-to-10-day period.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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