Bennett finally gets hands dirty

Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- For the first eight days of the season, the most action Gary Bennett experienced was in the bullpen, where bullpen catchers Rob Flippo and Mike Borzello threw him balls in the dirt.

Tuesday, Bennett was asked to start in place of catcher Russell Martin, making him the last player on the Dodgers' active roster to play in a game.

Being a seldom-used backup is nothing new for Bennett, who has never played more than 96 games, his career high set in a 2003 season with San Diego when, he has admitted, he used human growth hormone. He played his first full season with Philadelphia in 1999, starting only 19 games as he was backing up All-Star Mike Lieberthal.

He said he knew playing time would also be at a premium when he signed an $825,000 deal with the Dodgers to back up another All-Star, Martin.

"You just try to do what you can on the side," Bennett said.

Though his sessions with Flippo and Borzello in the bullpen are enough to keep him sharp defensively, he said that maintaining any sense of rhythm at the plate is almost impossible.

"There's no way to simulate major league pitching," said Bennett, a career .242 hitter. "If you're not seeing major league pitching on a regular basis, your timing's going to be off.

"You can't try to do too much. You try to put the barrel on the ball a few times, move guys over, bunt guys over, do what you're asked to do."

However little Bennett plays, he figures to get more time on the field than his predecessor, who happens to be the man he backed up in Philadelphia.

Lieberthal was limited to 17 starts as Martin's backup with the Dodgers last season, but Manager Joe Torre has made it clear that he wants Martin to rest more often than he did in 2007, when he started 143 times.


Nomar Garciaparra took batting practice for the second day in a row and Torre said he could be on a rehabilitation assignment when the Dodgers begin their three-game series at Dodger Stadium against the San Diego Padres on Friday.

Because Torre wants Garciaparra to face relatively polished pitching, he said the third baseman probably would be sent to triple-A Las Vegas, which will be in Sacramento on Friday.

How long the assignment lasts, Torre said, would be left up to Garciaparra. Torre pointed to how second baseman Jeff Kent, who was sidelined for more than three weeks during spring training because of a hamstring injury, got himself ready for opening day by playing in the last three games of the exhibition season.

Garciaparra said that he still felt pain in his right wrist, which has a microfracture.


Third baseman Andy LaRoche, not yet a month removed from thumb surgery, has started hitting off a tee. LaRoche said that he could hit light toss today. . . . Esteban Loaiza, who gave up four runs in four innings of Monday's loss to Arizona, will remain the fifth starter, Torre said. . . . Right-hander Eric Hull, who was designated for assignment by the Dodgers last week to clear room on the 40-man roster, was traded to the Boston Red Sox for infield prospect Christian Lara and cash considerations. Lara was sent to class-A Inland Empire. . . . Minor league outfielder Nook Logan, who was among the players named in the Mitchell Report, was released by the Dodgers. Also released were outfielder Wilkin Ruan and pitchers Brian Shackelford and Alfredo Simon.


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