LaRoche out by a thumb

Times Staff Writer

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Andy LaRoche fell out of the two-man race to be the Dodgers’ starting third baseman Friday night, when a ligament in his right thumb was revealed to be torn and in need of surgery that will sideline him eight to 10 weeks.

LaRoche will undergo surgery in the next couple of days, probably in Los Angeles, General Manager Ned Colletti said. With the 24-year old LaRoche out until at least May, the job at third base will almost certainly go to Nomar Garciaparra, who narrowly escaped a serious injury of his own in the Dodgers’ 6-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was because Garciaparra was hit by a pitch above his right wrist in the fourth inning that LaRoche had to enter the game as a pinch-runner.

A half inning later, LaRoche was rolling on the ground in agony, his throwing hand having been hit by a pickoff throw to third base by Dodgers catcher Danny Ardoin that deflected off runner D’Angelo Jimenez.


LaRoche and Garciaparra left the Dodgers’ clubhouse together to get X-rays. The test for Garciaparra, who hit his first home run of the spring in the second inning, came back negative.

“We’re fortunate that Nomar didn’t have something more serious happen to him,” Colletti said. “What are the odds of having two third basemen go down in 15 minutes?”

Garciaparra, who hit .283 last season with only seven home runs, is hitting .375 this spring.

LaRoche had a protruding disk in his back for much of last season, when he hit .309 in triple-A Las Vegas and was called up twice to the majors. But the back problems appeared to be behind him this spring, as he was hitting .350 and had an on-base percentage of .409. He had struck out five times in 20 at-bats.

With LaRoche shelved, the Dodgers will be forced to look for a backup at third base. Of the players in camp who are thought to have a serious chance of making the club, only 35-year-old Ramon Martinez and 23-year-old Tony Abreu have spent significant time playing the position.

Abreu was one for three Friday in his first game of the spring. He said that the sore groin that had him shut down felt “not very good but better than normal.”

Abreu, who sat out a large part of last season because of an abdominal problem that required off-season surgery, said he was tired of being sidelined.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve played ball,” he said. “I can’t spend this year the way I did the last.”


Saito’s status uncertain

Manager Joe Torre made no assurances that Takashi Saito would be ready for opening day, saying he didn’t know how long the closer would have to be shut down.

Saito threw 21 pitches in a side session, but his calf wasn’t completely pain-free and Torre said he didn’t want him throwing off a mound again until that changed.

“Today he barely felt it, but barely felt it is not acceptable,” Torre said.


The 38-year old Saito said he agreed with Torre.

“It’s not enough for me to just be in the bullpen on opening day,” he said. “It’s about being healthy.”


Because Jason Schmidt won’t be ready to pitch by opening day, Torre said he will be sent on a minor league rehabilitation assignment at some point. “He certainly will not be able to get enough work here,” Torre said. Schmidt threw 70 pitches on flat ground Thursday and didn’t report any problems. . . . Jeff Kent (right hamstring) played catch and took part in batting practice. He won’t start running for another four or five days. . . . Rudy Seanez (groin) threw a 25-pitch side session. . . . Hong-Chih Kuo (elbow) is scheduled to pitch today in the Dodgers’ game against the Cardinals in Jupiter. . . . Andruw Jones hit his first home run of the spring during Friday’s game.