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04/27/07 10:45 PM ET
Notes: Furcal ready to break out
Early season injury has shortstop off to slow start
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
SAN DIEGO -- It's become a familiar story for Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal, turning April into his personal Spring Training after missing most of the real one with a variety of injuries. It happened last year when he was recovering from knee surgery, followed by a sore shoulder, then back and finger problems. It happened again this year, first with another sore shoulder, then a serious ankle sprain. The difference is that this year he was disabled and missed the team's first eight games. Last year he was never disabled. The result last year was an April average of .198 with only two extra-base hits (both doubles) and an on-base percentage of .306. Heading into Friday night's action, Furcal was hitting .211 with two extra-base hits (both doubles) and an on-base percentage of .262. "I can't practice and get in shape," said Furcal. "My practice is to play in games." Manager Grady Little predicts Furcal will wake up the way he did last year when he hit .311 in May and finished the season at .300. "He's right on the verge of busting loose," said Little. "He's swinging the bat good and feeling good physically. Right around May 1 last year, he got it going. It's coincidental the time frame is the same. The guy had very little Spring Training, and it takes a while to get into the flow, but he looks like he's ready to go." Furcal stole six bases last April and has only two this April, the weakened ankle making a quick first step difficult. That, however, was not the reason that Furcal was unable to glove a screaming rocket of a line drive that 43-year-old Barry Bonds sent only a few feet to Furcal's right on Thursday night. "By the time I started to dive for the ball, it was already to [center fielder Juan] Pierre," said Furcal. "It was a bullet, man. He hit it so hard and it came like a knuckle ball, no spin. He smoked it. It's a good thing he didn't hit it at me, or it might go through me. And a good thing it was a low line drive, because if it was in the air, it would go to the freeway. He's the best. The best." Betemit benched again: After getting a double Thursday night but also striking out in bases-loaded situation, Wilson Betemit was back on the bench on Friday night against Padres right-hander Clay Hensley, replaced by Wilson Valdez, with Little's explanation a little less supportive than it's been lately. "He did a little better last night and hopefully he'll get it going, but he's at a point where he needs to get something going and needs to sustain it a while," he said. Most young players struggling the way Betemit is would be sent back to the Minor Leagues, but he's out of options, so if the club decided to replace him with Andy LaRoche, it would run the risk of having him claimed by another team first. LaRoche is hitting .262 with three homers and eight RBIs in 16 games at Triple-A Las Vegas. Kemp optioned: Matt Kemp, who homered and tripled upon resuming his Minor League rehabilitation assignment in Las Vegas on Thursday night, was transferred off the disabled list and optioned to Triple-A on Friday. One apparent reason for the procedural move is that Kemp is healthy and there's no easy roster move to bring him back. A small side result -- while on the rehab assignment, Kemp draws his Major League salary of $383,000. While on option he receives the pro-ratio of his Minor League split salary of $94,250. Although he's apparently recovered from a slight shoulder separation suffered slamming into the right-field fence at Dodger Stadium, with Dodgers outfielders Luis Gonzalez, Pierre and Andre Ethier healthy and playing every day, at-bats are scarce. "We're not at the point where we want him sitting on the bench," said Little. "It's like we were coming out of Spring Training." The difference is that Kemp made the club coming out of Spring Training, mainly because Andre Ethier was slumping. Ethier slugged his third home run on Thursday night, tying for the team lead with Gonzalez. Figueroa suspended: Minor League left-hander Jonathan Figueroa was suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball for testing positive for performance-enhancing substance in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. His suspension will take effect on June 19, the date of the first scheduled game for Class A Ogden. In 2003, Figueroa was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in the Dodgers organization, behind James Loney, and the 35th best prospect in all of baseball, ahead of Dontrelle Willis, Travis Hafner and Chase Utley. He was signed in 2002 for a $500,000 bonus out of Venezuela, but he has had a series of arm injuries and has never pitched above Class A. UCLA Book Fair: Little's wife, Debi, will be a guest reader at UCLA's book fair on Saturday along with former Dodgers outfielder Ken Landreaux. The two-day event will help raise money for the Dodgers Dream Foundation. Coming up: In the second game of the series on Saturday night, Brett Tomko (0-1, 2.65 ERA) opposes former Dodgers right-hander Greg Maddux (1-2, 4.24).
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.