LaRoche seeks label of Mr. Versatility

Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- With rookie Blake DeWitt looking as if he has solidified his place as the Dodgers' starting third baseman, Andy LaRoche has started playing first base for triple-A Las Vegas as part of a plan to increase the ways he can help the big league club.

LaRoche was competing for the third base job with Nomar Garciaparra in spring training but tore a ligament in his right thumb and had to undergo surgery. He was reinstated from the disabled list May 3, but the emergence of DeWitt blocked his path to the majors.

LaRoche played his first game at first base Sunday.

"We're going to move him all over the infield with the anticipation that when he comes up to this level, that if we want to get [starting first baseman James] Loney out of there against a certain left-hander, we can do that," Manager Joe Torre said. "It's just more options for us."

Backup first baseman and pinch-hitting specialist Mark Sweeney was batting .100 through Monday.

Torre said that management has also discussed the idea of playing LaRoche at second base, a position he played early in his minor league career.

The manager also guessed that LaRoche could probably play left field as well. LaRoche played a big league game in left last May.


Andruw Jones underwent a successful surgery to remove damaged cartilage from his right knee and will start his rehabilitation today. He figures to be out four to six weeks.

Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa said Jones told him that his knee problem wasn't responsible for his .165 average.

"To me, it takes a lot for a guy to say that," Bowa said. "He could easily say, 'My knee hurt.' My hat goes off to him for saying that's not the reason. We all know he's a better hitter than he's showed. We thought he was going to hit 25 to 30 home runs. Hopefully, when he comes back, he'll be the Andruw that we know."


Backup catcher Danny Ardoin was called up from triple-A Las Vegas on May 20 but didn't make his Dodgers debut until Tuesday, when Torre decided to rest Russell Martin.

Ardoin, who last played in the big leagues in 2006 with the Baltimore Orioles, was in spring training with the Dodgers but didn't catch Tuesday's starter Hiroki Kuroda in any exhibition games. He said he was behind the plate for a couple of Kuroda's bullpen sessions.

Ardoin said he requested video of the starting pitchers when he earned his big-league promotion and that watching tape of Kuroda, coupled with conversations with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and Martin, made him feel as if he knew enough about Kuroda's preferences. He guessed that if he had to visit Kuroda on the mound during the game without the aid of an interpreter, he would have to "talk with a little body language."


Jason Schmidt threw 45 pitches over 3 1/3 innings in his third minor league rehabilitation start for Class-A Inland Empire on Monday. Schmidt didn't give up any runs until the fourth, when an infield hit, a catcher's interference call and two wild pitches led to three runs, two of them earned.

Torre said the plan is for Schmidt to throw 60 pitches in his next start, which is scheduled for Saturday to get him used to pitching every five days.


Rafael Furcal has definitely been ruled out for the second half of the Dodgers' trip, which starts Thursday in New York. Torre said he remained uncertain of when Furcal would return. . . . Garciaparra will undergo further examinations of his strained left calf on Friday.


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