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Making every pitch count

Times Staff Writer

The Dodgers aren’t hitting, but it isn’t because they aren’t listening to their new manager.

Entering their series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night, the Dodgers’ lineup was seeing an average of 4.00 pitches per plate appearance, the most in the majors, according to Stats LLC. The Dodgers ranked 29th among 30 big league teams in that category last season at 3.63.

However small the sample size -- the game Monday was only the Dodgers’ 13th -- the statistic encouraged Manager Joe Torre, who stressed to his players the importance of working counts in two team meetings during spring training. Patience at the plate was a trademark of Torre’s teams in New York.

“There’s no question it’s a positive,” Torre said.

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Torre acknowledged Monday that he didn’t know whether the Dodgers’ offense would ever be called high-powered -- they are averaging only 3.9 runs per game -- but said his team could give itself a better chance of scoring runs if it forced the opposition to go into its bullpens early by running up the pitch counts of the starters.

That could be particularly important in the NL West, where there are several premium arms at the top of rotations. When talking recently about how hard it is to beat a pitcher the caliber of San Diego’s Jake Peavy, Torre recalled the success his Yankees had against the Boston Red Sox in games pitched by Pedro Martinez. The key, Torre said, was to tire out Martinez or force him out of the game.

Rafael Furcal has been particularly adept at taking pitchers deep into counts, his 4.38 pitches per trip to the plate tying him for 11th in the majors before Monday. He was batting .391.

But seeing more pitches isn’t necessarily a sign of increased patience, hitting coach Mike Easler warned. Andruw Jones (4.50 pitches per plate appearance, fourth in the majors) and Russell Martin (4.38, tied for 11th), who are both struggling at the plate, are among the leaders in that category, but are just being thrown more bad pitches.

“The unfortunate side of that is that you’re going to be in a lot of unfavorable counts, a lot of two-strike counts,” left fielder Andre Ethier said. “But while your first and second at-bat might not be so good, by the time you get to your third or fourth, you’ve seen all of his pitches and you’ll be ready to go out there and hit.”

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Nomar Garciaparra, who played in the third game of his minor league rehabilitation assignment with triple-A Las Vegas, will be in Los Angeles today. Torre said he and Garciaparra would discuss the possibility of the third baseman’s playing in another minor league game to prepare himself for the upcoming five-game trip to Atlanta and Cincinnati, which starts Friday. . . . Third baseman Andy LaRoche threw across the diamond for the first time since undergoing surgery on his right thumb five weeks ago. Torre said LaRoche was close to being sent out for some game action with a minor league affiliate or extended spring training in Vero Beach, Fla. . . . Utility infielder Ramon Martinez, who was on a minor league assignment in Las Vegas, hurt his right thumb on a diving play Saturday and was in Los Angeles for an MRI exam to determine whether he has a torn ligament. . . . Former Dodgers right-hander Jeff Weaver signed an incentive-laden one-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, according to a baseball source. . . . To celebrate the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking baseball’s color barrier, all Dodgers uniformed personnel will wear Robinson’s No. 42 today.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com


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