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LaRoche shocked by extent of injury

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Times Staff Writer

JUPITER, Fla. -- Andy LaRoche said he never saw it coming -- the ball that hit his right hand or the news that he had a torn ligament that would require surgery.

LaRoche sat in front of his locker in Vero Beach on Saturday morning, his immobilized thumb two days away from an operation that will cost LaRoche at least eight weeks. He was hurt Friday when he was hit by a pickoff throw to third base by catcher Danny Ardoin that deflected off Cardinals baserunner D'Angelo Jimenez.

“I guess you can’t say it’s as bad as finding out about somebody dying, but it’s kind of a shock,” LaRoche said. “You don’t believe it at first. I just got hit with a baseball, you know? It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

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But it was. As the Dodgers pounded the St. Louis Cardinals, 20-6, LaRoche was preparing to leave camp for Los Angeles, where he is scheduled to undergo a procedure to reattach his ulnar collateral ligament. He said he would return to Vero Beach as soon as possible.

“They asked me if I wanted to go out to Arizona and rehab there, but I’m going to come out here and stay as much a part of this team as I can,” he said.

His thumb will remain immobilized for three weeks after the surgery, but he said that shouldn’t prevent him from doing one-handed drills and fielding grounders.

Of his competition with Nomar Garciaparra to be the starting third baseman, LaRoche said, “It’s an easy decision on them now, you know?”

That being the case, Manager Joe Torre said he and General Manager Ned Colletti would be turning their attention to finding a backup for Garciaparra. Before looking outside the organization, Torre said, they would exhaust the possibilities within.

Among them are shortstop Chin-lung Hu, whom Torre approached during batting practice about taking ground balls at second and third base. Torre said Hu was “gung-ho” on the idea and Hu, who last played third base for Taiwan at the 2003 Baseball World Cup in Cuba, said he would be at Dodgertown at 8:30 this morning to have third base coach Larry Bowa hit him grounders.

Other options include 35-year-old infielder Ramon Martinez and 23-year-old prospect Tony Abreu, who made his spring debut Friday but didn’t play Saturday because of soreness in his lower body.

The Dodgers could be in a far worse situation. Garciaparra, who was hit on the right hand by a pitch Friday and also had X-rays taken, said he was relieved that he wasn’t hit on the part of his wrist that was surgically repaired in 2001.

“I just missed that spot,” he said.

Kuroda the student

Hiroki Kuroda had his first rough outing of the spring, giving up five hits and three runs (two earned) in two innings against the Cardinals. Kuroda said he is still trying to get a feel for the American strike zone, which he believes is about one baseball size wider than the one used in Japan.

Kuroda said he is also trying to better understand the way major-league hitters think, which is why he was later questioning Andruw Jones in the clubhouse.

“He was asking me if I was always aggressive on the first pitch,” Jones said.

Runs, runs, more runs

Delwyn Young, Rafael Furcal and George Lombard hit home runs as the Dodgers collected 20 hits in their victory over the Cardinals. Matt Kemp drove in three runs on two triples and James Loney was two for three to raise his spring average to .423.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com


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