Dodgers' Rafael Furcal impatient to return to lineup

With apologies to rocker Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part for Rafael Furcal.

It's been nearly three weeks since the Dodgers shortstop went on the disabled list after breaking his left thumb while sliding, and "I want to play right now," Furcal, still wearing a splint on the finger, said before Saturday's game.

Furcal was expected to miss four to six weeks. The wait "is boring," said Furcal, 33, the team's highest-paid player with a salary of $12 million. "As soon as possible I want to come back to the field."

Furcal might soon make some progress. "It's starting to feel much better," and on Monday "we've got three weeks [since the injury] and we can start, maybe, seeing what we can do," he said. Furcal, a switch-hitter who throws right-handed, said he still hasn't tried catching a ball.

Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly agreed that Furcal was "getting close to being able to start doing some baseball activities, and we'll see where we get to go from there. He's walked around showing me he can move [the thumb] and it's not hurting him."

Furcal said the injury was especially frustrating after his problems last season, when he missed a combined 52 games because of a strained hamstring, a low back strain and the death of his father. In the 97 games he did play, Furcal batted .300.

"At first he was really down" after breaking the thumb, Mattingly said. "He said something about retiring, but that's one of those things you say at the spur of the moment. I think the fact that he didn't need surgery was really big."

And while Furcal hates having to wait for the thumb to heal, Mattingly said he welcomed Furcal's presence on the bench.

"We've wanted him to be around the club," Mattingly added. "He's one of those guys who brings a lot of energy."

Gwynn's role

After making a diving catch in left field the previous night to save the game for the Dodgers, Tony Gwynn Jr. wasn't in the starting lineup in Saturday's game against the San Diego Padres.

Rookie Jerry Sands started again in left field, and Gwynn — a former Padre obtained by the Dodgers in the off-season more for his defensive skills than his bat — said he understood his current role. Gwynn entered Saturday's game batting .250 (13 for 52).

"It is what it is right now," said Gwynn, 28, who also was a late replacement Friday when he made the catch that saved the Dodgers' 3-2 victory. "Sands is up here; [he's] got to get his at-bats right now.

"But it's only April, it's a long season," Gwynn said. "It doesn't mean that down the line I won't be back in that lineup more often. Just keep working and try to be ready when my name is called."

His name was called again Saturday in the seventh inning, and Gwynn stroked a pinch-hit single that at the time gave the Dodgers a 2-2 tie with San Diego.

Tornado relief

The Dodgers said several players and coaches would sign autographs before the games Sunday and Tuesday at Dodger Stadium to raise funds for victims of the tornadoes in the South.

And finally

Third baseman Casey Blake has "a chance to come out to the park Monday night," which would be his first appearance at Dodger Stadium since undergoing surgery Thursday for a staph infection on his left elbow, Mattingly said. Blake is expected to be out at least six weeks.

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