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Torre slowly meets team

Times Staff Writer

The start of spring training is less than a month away and Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said he has spoken to only a few of his players.

He said he doesn’t know what most of them look like or how they think. He said he has few ideas about who will hit in what spot.

About the only certainty in Torre’s mind that he was willing to share with reporters Thursday at Dodger Stadium is that Andruw Jones will be his starting center fielder -- “Obviously,” he said.

Everything else, Torre said, will be decided at spring training, which begins in Vero Beach, Fla., on Feb. 14, when pitchers and catchers report.

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Torre has spoken to two veterans whose roles on the team are especially uncertain: Juan Pierre and Nomar Garciaparra.

Pierre, 30, is competing for the two corner outfield positions with 23-year-old Matt Kemp and 25-year-old Andre Ethier. Kemp has spent most of the off-season working out in Arizona and said he has lost 25 pounds since the end of the last season. He was at Dodger Stadium on Thursday working out with a group of prospects who are wrapping up a two-week mini-camp.

Garciaparra, 34, will compete with 24-year-old Andy LaRoche, who is also attending the camp, to be the everyday third baseman.

Torre said his conversation with Pierre was similar to one he had with Bernie Williams as manager of the New York Yankees.

“I just basically said to him what I said to Bernie Williams when we signed Kenny Lofton: ‘We’re going to do what’s best for the team and when we leave spring training, it’s going to be with the three guys playing the outfield that we all agree will give us the best shot,’ ” Torre said.

Pierre has played in 434 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the major leagues. Whether that will be a consideration when drawing up the lineup, Torre said, will depend on a combination of what’s best for the team and how much the streak means to Pierre.

Torre said that if Pierre is in the lineup, he and Rafael Furcal would probably hit in the first two spots -- not necessarily in that order -- because their speed would distract opposing pitchers.

Of his chat with Garciaparra, Torre said, “He asked me about what position I thought we could use him. One position that he will probably play more of is third base. But I also said to him that with his ability to play other positions, he would be really valuable to us in a lot of ways.”

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The only part of the team that Torre was openly concerned about was the bench. The unit could be very young if Garciaparra beats out LaRoche for the starting position, as Delwyn Young, Tony Abreu and Chin-Lung Hu are among the players vying for roster spots. The Dodgers’ negotiations with veteran pinch-hitting specialist Mark Sweeney have stalled in recent weeks.

“The youth off the bench is always a question mark because you don’t know how they handle not playing and playing after not playing,” Torre said, citing the example of the problems the Yankees had with Andy Phillips.

Torre said he was pleased with the state of the starting rotation despite the uncertainties about the fifth spot. Competing for the position are Jason Schmidt, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, and Esteban Loaiza, who was hurt for most of last season and posted a 5.79 earned-run average.

“I’m pretty comfortable because when you’re questioning your fifth spot, that’s a pretty good place to be,” Torre said. “I figure there are a lot of clubs looking for their third, fourth and fifth spots.”

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That the Dodgers don’t have a left-handed starter isn’t a serious concern, Torre said.

Torre touched on the issue of steroids, saying he hoped baseball could “move on.”

“Let’s just find a way to solve it rather than pointing fingers and finding ways to punish people,” he said.

He said that as the manager of the Yankees, he never saw or heard anything that led him to suspect that Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte or Chuck Knoblauch used performance-enhancing drugs. The three players were among the players named in the Mitchell Report.

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Torre added that he thought it was unnecessary for Major League Baseball to let an independent agency take over its drug testing. Commissioner Bud Selig and players’ union chief Donald Fehr understand “how dangerous this time is. And I think they’re both in agreement that they have to find a way to gain this trust back. I think they can do it on their own.”

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com


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