Notes: Dodgers likely have order down

Notes: Dodgers likely know order of things

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Manager Grady Little wouldn't reveal specifics and hasn't notified the players affected, but he indicated that he's already decided in which order his starting rotation will be slotted and Rafael Furcal and Juan Pierre will bat.

Derek Lowe has been the Opening Day starter the past two years for the Dodgers. He could be supplanted this year if Little wants to give opposing hitters a variety of looks by sandwiching the sinker-ball-throwing Lowe between power pitchers Jason Schmidt and Brad Penny.

He's hinted that Furcal might be a more versatile hitter than Pierre, but hasn't come out to say Pierre would bat leadoff and Furcal would follow him. One of the natural leadoff hitters will bat second, but Little said he wouldn't want that hitter to dramatically change his approach regardless of which one it is.

"No. 2 hitters do different things, but there's a fine line between that and getting out of character," he said. "A guy's done something all his life and all of a sudden he's in a position where he hasn't hit. I don't want them to change."

Little said he didn't expect a lot of batting order experimentation during Spring Training.

"There's a lot to be said for continuity," he said. "Maybe we'll grab one and go with it."

Tomko turns heads, then ankle: After unveiling an impressive new delivery in his Saturday bullpen session, Brett Tomko said he sprained his right ankle stepping in a hole on the lawn at his spring rental and he had to miss outdoor conditioning and drills Sunday.

Tomko was scheduled to throw again Monday. Little said the sprain was minor, but Tomko said the ankle was still a little swollen and sore after the tape was removed.

Little said Tomko's delivery Saturday was "better than any time last year." He added that Tomko, with a shortened arm swing that hides the ball, is back in the picture for a starting slot after voluntarily spending the second half of last year in the bullpen.

One consideration is that Tomko and Chad Billingsley could flop roles, with Billingsley taking on a middle relief role. Billingsley's pitch efficiency was better when he pitched in relief (particularly two playoff appearances) than as a starter, and a Little priority this year is to get more innings out of his starting pitchers.

Billingsley made 16 starts last year and averaged 5 1/3 innings each. Billingsley was more effective in relief than was Hong-Chih Kuo, another young contender for a starting spot. Mark Hendrickson, yet another starting candidate, was much more effective pitching out of the bullpen. Either he or Kuo would give the Dodgers a second left-hander out of the bullpen in addition to Joe Beimel.

Saito tests calf: Closer Takashi Saito, nursing a strained right calf, threw off a mound for the first time and reported no discomfort. His throwing session, however, was shorter than the other pitchers as a precautionary measure.

Saito, who suffered the injury running in Japan a month ago, said his improvement has been steady. How his calf feels Monday will determine if Saito can maintain a regular bullpen schedule of every other day.

Lowe takes drive: Having thrown his bullpen session Saturday, Lowe did his conditioning Sunday, then made the 100-mile drive up I-95 to watch the Daytona 500 from the pit of racer Jeff Gordon.

Pierre the student: The scouting report on Juan Pierre is that he's the first one to get to the park and the last to leave, and a $44 million contract hasn't changed that. He's been in training camp voluntarily since it opened to pitchers and catchers, and he wasted no time getting to his first tutorial with instructor Maury Wills, who bounces around like he's 20 years younger than his 74 years.

It was 45 years ago when Wills stole 104 bases and won the MVP award.

"It's unheard of for a guy of our kind of skills in that era he played in to win the MVP," said Pierre, a student of baseball history. "Just to get the chance to work with him is almost a dream come true. I just want to pick his brain. I know he changed the game. He was the only one doing what he was doing.

"That's the thing about coming to a team with this kind of history. You come across the legends. I saw it with the Cubs and Billy Williams. I was with Colorado and Florida and they don't have that. If you're smart, you want to talk to guys like him."

Wills said one session in the bunting pit convinced him Pierre already knows what he's doing.

"He's doing so many things right," he said. "He has the bat at the right angle, the hand placement where it should be. And you've got to be almost perfect when you have his game, because they know you're bunting and you have to do it anyway. He had 16 bunt hits last year and if he had 20 he'd have hit .300 instead of .296. His goal this year is 20-25 and he should be able to do that."

Catching a red-eye: Kelly Stinnett was coaching his kids' flag football team in Phoenix on Saturday and catching a Randy Wolf bullpen session in Florida on Sunday.

"I'm kind of insurance, I guess," Stinnett said after arriving on a red-eye flight following his Saturday signing.

Stinnett joins Sandy Martinez and Ken Huckaby as catchers likely headed for the Minor Leagues. Manager Grady Little said he intends to keep only two catchers on the 25-man roster and they will be Russell Martin and Mike Lieberthal, unless something very unexpected happens.

"We have a lot of respect for Kelly Stinnett for what he has done and what he can do. That's why he's here," said Little. "A lot of things happen and we're being prepared."

Position players reporting: Sunday additions were Andre Ethier, Wilson Betemit, James Loney and Larry Bigbie. Loney, a natural first baseman, will spend time working in the outfield in hopes of creating more playing time.

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