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Notes: New trainer changes things up

Notes: New trainer changes it up for Dodgers

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- One personnel move that made an immediate impact on the Dodgers was the hiring of new medical director Stan Conte, who unveiled a revamped exercise program to start Saturday's first official workout for pitchers and catchers.

Conte, the former San Francisco Giants trainer, was hired by general manager Ned Colletti, the former Giants assistant manager. Stan Johnston, head trainer for the previous seven years, remains on the staff. As awkward as that might sound, Colletti said it makes perfect sense.

"If you have three good starting pitchers, it doesn't mean you don't look for a fourth," said the general manager who added Jason Schmidt to his rotation. "We're just looking to make our team better and I feel we have. We're fortunate to have two trainers who have been through as much as they have."

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The most obvious departure in Conte's approach from what would have been seen a year ago is that all stretching and conditioning drills will be done as soon as the players hit the practice field in the morning. Previously, players stretched, then went to various baseball stations, and ended the day with conditioning.

Conte said he's had success with his strategy because it fosters a more intense approach to the workout at the beginning of the day. The ultimate goal, he said, is to prevent injuries before they occur. He said the exercises chosen focus on the bursts of energy that are often required during a baseball game.

"It's a little leap of faith for [manager Grady] Little and the staff, but they see a little upside," Conte said. "The medical staff treats a lot of injuries and I think the main goal is to prevent them and keep the players on the field. Change is tough. Sometimes changing simple things, in baseball, it's a very big deal. I'm committed to it. I think it works."

Following Conte's 45-minute session, pitchers were divided into groups with roughly half throwing off a mound. The other half will throw off a mound Sunday.

Little said post-workout time will be spent working on baseball-specific skills, as needed.

The only pitcher who did not throw off a mound because of injury Saturday was closer Takashi Saito, who is nursing a strained calf muscle suffered a month ago while training in Japan. Little said he wasn't sure when Saito would throw off a mound, but indicated he wouldn't be rushed.

"He isn't concerned, but we're a little concerned, and that's only natural, until we see him back out throwing at 100 percent," Little said.

Chad Billingsley has been fighting the flu and probably will throw Sunday.

Brad Penny did throw off a mound with some of the other starters. Penny did his conditioning on indoor machines, which isn't unusual for him, but the club revealed he suffered a slight knee sprain during the Christmas break. Penny said he was tripped up by his retriever on the grounds of his California home, but he had no discomfort Saturday.

In addition to Penny, Derek Lowe, Brett Tomko, Hong-Chih Kuo and Eric Stults had bullpen sessions, as did young pitchers Jon Meloan, Mike Megrew, Zach Hammes and Chin-hui Tsao, who will continue his recovery from shoulder problems out of the bullpen.

Tomko ready: Tomko looked particularly sharp for the first workout. He opened last season in the starting rotation, suffered a strained oblique muscle and volunteered to return to action as a reliever, and he remained in the bullpen for the rest of the season.

Determined to win back his starting job, he cut down his body fat and tweaked his mechanics with a shorter arm swing.

"I feel my release point is better and my command is more consistent," he said. "I feel more compact. I feel better body-wise than I have in a long time. There's a job to be won and I feel it's my job to win."

Early-reporting position players who participated voluntarily Saturday were Wilson Betemit, Chin-Lung Hu, Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche, Juan Pierre, Jason Repko and Wilson Valdez.

Pierre addressed familiar criticism that his on-base percentage (.350 overall, .330 last year) is inadequate for a leadoff hitter.

"I know that's the knock on me," he said. "I put the ball in play. It's a catch-22 kind of deal. I try to walk, but opposing pitchers and managers figure the worst they'll give up is a double [because he lacks home-run power] so most pitchers pound the strike zone. But I could be more selective."

Tough workouts: If any of the Dodgers aren't thrilled with Conte's new conditioning program, they can always work out during the offseason with Rudy Seanez, who stays in shape sparring with mixed martial arts fighters like those seen on Ultimate Fighting Championship, Ultimate Fighter and Pride Fighting Championship.

"We go at it about 80 percent sparring and 100 percent training," said Seanez, in camp on a Minor League contract despite 11-plus years of Major League service, including parts of 1994-95 with the Dodgers. "You get real beat up, but it's a great workout."

This is Seanez's 21st professional season since being drafted by Cleveland in the fourth round in 1986. He's been traded five times and either released or granted free agency 13 times. He's been with the Padres four times, the Dodgers three times and four other clubs twice apiece.

Here's the flow chart of his organizational stops: Cleveland, Los Angeles, Colorado, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York Mets, Kansas City, Atlanta, San Diego, Atlanta, Texas, Texas, Boston, Chicago Cubs, Kansas City, Florida, San Diego, Boston, San Diego and Los Angeles.

Seanez said he remembers crossing paths with baseball's ultimate vagabond, Mike Morgan, during a previous Dodgers stint. Morgan played in the Major Leagues for 12 different organizations.

"I would have blown him out of the water if I hadn't repeated so many clubs," said Seanez, who has played for nine Major League teams. "I always admired how he stuck with it. And I also admired that nobody ever had a bad thing to say about him."

Stinnett signed: Having collected a surplus of pitchers, the Dodgers are scrambling for backstops to catch them.

They signed journeyman Kelly Stinnett to a Minor League contract Saturday, adding to a corps of insurance catchers Sandy Martinez and Ken Huckaby behind Major League starter Russell Martin and his presumed caddy, veteran Mike Lieberthal.

Stinnett, 37, has played parts of the past 13 seasons in the Major Leagues, splitting time last year with both New York teams. He has a lifetime .237 batting average with 64 home runs.

Also in camp is Minor Leaguer A.J. Ellis and bullpen catcher Rob Flippo. But the Dodgers have 28 pitchers in camp, all but Yhency Brazoban healthy enough to pitch off a mound, and they have six mounds in the area which accommodates six pitchers simultaneously.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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