Dodgers finalize postseason roster
Kent, Garciaparra to come off bench; Furcal to bat leadoff
CHICAGO -- The Dodgers turned the season around late by adding better players to the roster, and for the start of the playoffs, they did it again.
Leading off and starting at shortstop in Wednesday's Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Cubs will be Rafael Furcal, while Jeff Kent will join Nomar Garciaparra on a formidable bench. Furcal made it after missing four months with back surgery, Kent after missing three weeks with left knee surgery.
Manager Joe Torre revealed those and other decisions he's made, including adding utilityman Pablo Ozuna for defensive reasons and pinch-running; and dropping the season-long pinch-hitting tandem of veteran Mark Sweeney and rookie Delwyn Young and reliever Scott Proctor.
Furcal is a starter again because the lingering nerve discomfort from his back surgery vanished last week after he began aggressively running through it. He said he thinks he can play nine innings, although his crash course of training camp allowed him to play only 15 innings of defense and go 2-for-9 batting in four games last week after missing 125 games with a bulging disc.
"I wanted to play nine innings Saturday in San Francisco, but they didn't let me," Furcal said. "I think I can. We'll see what happens tomorrow. I'm not scared. I know I'm feeling good. My back feels better than ever and my hamstring keeps getting better when I run."
Torre said he's eager to see Furcal and Manny Ramirez batting in the same first inning, even though the Dodgers can't be sure of Furcal's readiness to hit high-quality pitching.
"[Angel] Berroa did a great job and held us together in September, but Furcal is a pretty special talent," Torre said.
Catcher Russell Martin, who bats between Furcal and Ramirez, can't wait.
"Just having Furcal at the top, he's a natural leadoff hitter with power and speed," Martin said. "He's the guy you want at the top. He's a gamer and you know he'll turn it up when the time is right."
Dodgers' lineup for
NLDS Game 1
Torre's 11-man pitching staff has starters Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda for the first three games. He has 42-year-old starter Greg Maddux and 20-year-old rookie starter Clayton Kershaw in the bullpen.
He would not name a closer between Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton. He prefers Saito because of experience, but Saito's availability on consecutive days is doubtful because of the torn right elbow ligament that shelved him for two months. Broxton was his replacement, and Torre said he wouldn't hesitate using him.
Middle reliever Hong-Chih Kuo passed a battery of tests for a circulatory problem and will resume throwing Wednesday, but he's off the roster, giving left-hander Joe Beimel added opportunity to seek redemption after his barroom accident that cost him a roster spot on the eve of the 2006 playoffs.
The bullpen also includes Cory Wade, Chan Ho Park and James McDonald, who was selected over Ramon Troncoso. McDonald replaces Proctor because he can be warmed up frequently. Proctor, who pitched for Torre with the Yankees, missed more than two months with elbow tendinitis and Torre is concerned he cannot warm-up more than once.
Joining Furcal in the infield is third baseman Casey Blake, second baseman Blake DeWitt and first baseman James Loney. Torre said he went with DeWitt over Kent at second because of his defensive range and the improved offense he showed in September, when Kent was healing.
Kent said he's ready to return to second base, but Torre said he more likely would use him at first base for late-inning double switches and pinch-hitting.
"He was a longshot," Torre said of Kent, whose knee is still tender. "In the opportunities he's had, he certainly showed he can swing the bat."
The regular outfield consists of Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier from left to right, with Juan Pierre the fourth outfielder and lone left-handed bat on the bench. Martin catches and bats second behind Furcal, followed by Ramirez, Ethier, Loney, Kemp, DeWitt and Blake.
Berroa, the starting shortstop during the Dodgers' September run to overtake the D-backs, was bumped to the backup infielder role with Furcal's return. Danny Ardoin is the backup catcher.
Torre said the toughest part of the roster decisions -- which are tentative and not official until submitted Wednesday morning -- was telling Proctor and Sweeney.
Sweeney, who hit .130 this year, was disappointed but not surprised.
"It's not about individual stuff. It's about having the team win," Sweeney said. "Unfortunately, I made this decision easy. That's why I'm upset. It's disappointing for the right reason. Anyone with a competitive feeling inside that's worked hard to get to this point would be. But it's what we've got to do."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.