Furcal eyes early return

Times Staff Writer

Speaking to reporters for the first time since he underwent surgery on a bulging disk in his back on July 3, Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal said Thursday he was sure he would play again this season.

Furcal said he was told by Dr. Robert Watkins, who performed the operation, that his recovery would take anywhere from six to eight weeks, meaning he could be back in late August.

“I feel much better than I did before,” said Furcal, who was hitting a team-leading .366 when he was put on the disabled list on May 13. “I feel only sore in one part.”


That wasn’t the case, Furcal said, when he woke up on July 1, the day after he played for triple-A Las Vegas in what was supposed to be the first game of a three- or four-game minor league rehabilitation assignment.

Furcal said he felt pain in every part of his back. More alarming was that the pain ran down his left leg.

“I didn’t want to take a chance,” he said.

Furcal is a free agent at the end of the season, but he said he wouldn’t rush back for the sake of raising his stock.

“For me, getting healthy is the first thing,” he said. “Free agency is another thing. I don’t want to think of free agency when I can’t do anything about it.”

Draft pick Martin signed

First-round draft pick Ethan Martin was signed to a contract that included a $1.73-million signing bonus and took part in batting practice with the Dodgers.

Martin will be developed as a pitcher, but the 19-year-old from Georgia was wanted by a couple of other teams as a third baseman. Seeing Martin hit four home runs in batting practice, Dodgers Manager Joe Torre asked, “Are you sure you want to pitch?”


Replied Martin, “Yes sir, I guess so.”

Martin didn’t start pitching full time until he was a junior in high school but said he was confident in the call made by assistant general manager Logan White to make him a pitcher, based on White’s track record. White faced a similar decision when drafting James Loney in 2002 and decided to make him a first baseman instead of a pitcher.

“It makes me feel good inside that he knows what he’s doing,” Martin said of White.

Martin will travel Sunday to Vero Beach, Fla., home of the Dodgers’ rookie ball affiliate. White said the hard-throwing Martin had a heavy workload this spring -- he threw 130 pitches in one game -- and will be limited to 35 to 40 innings for the remainder of the year.

Bowa’s box moved

The Dodgers received a call from the commissioner’s office Wednesday night ordering them to redraw the coaches’ boxes at Dodger Stadium because they weren’t in compliance with the newest league rules. The team made the changes in time for the game Thursday. The boxes, previously nine feet away from the foul lines, are now 15 feet away.

Penny’s slow recovery

Opening-day starter Brad Penny probably won’t be activated until the end of the month, Torre said.

Penny received a cortisone injection Monday night, but Torre said he remained uncertain when Penny would be able to start throwing again. Penny was scheduled to play catch Thursday but had the session scrapped.

Torre said he guessed Penny would have to face live hitting once or twice, either in a minor league game or a simulated situation, before being activated from the disabled list.


Short hops

Torre maintained his stance that when Jason Schmidt pitches again for the Dodgers, he will do so as a starter. . . . Andruw Jones and Nomar Garciaparra, who started the previous three days, were out of the lineup. . . . Jeff Kent, who rested his back Wednesday, was back in.