Notes: Penny's 'typical' spring continues

Notes: Penny's 'typical' spring continues

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The battle for the No. 5 slot in the Dodgers' rotation is reaching the boiling point. Meanwhile, No. 4 remained frigid.

Hong-Chih Kuo bolstered his claim for a starting job with two hitless innings in Sunday's 10-9 victory over Washington, but only after Brad Penny teetered through another frustrating stint.

Frustrating for him, that is; few of the nine well-placed hits off him in three innings, for four runs, were smoked. But not for his manager, who is placing enduring faith in the 28-year-old veteran's springtime M.O.

"It was a typical Spring Training game for him," Grady Little said. "You have to realize that last year, too, he went through the same thing in the spring. Then he got off to a great start."

Penny spent the second half of 2006 looking for the touch that had boosted him to a 9-3 record through June. He's still looking, his first three Grapefruit League turns having done nothing to erase the memory of his 5.93 ERA across the final three months.

In seven innings, the right-hander has been reeled for 17 hits and 10 runs and has shown a glaring inability to put away hitters.

He continued to collect a veteran's mulligan Sunday, when 11 of the last 16 batters to face him reached base, including two on walks.

"He used all his pitches and had command of them," Little said. "And that's what we're looking for, to make sure he's healthy. With some guys, we don't want to look at stats in Spring Training."

Kuo's zeros came the day after Mark Hendrickson allowed one hit in three innings against Florida, and the day before another rotation candidate, Brett Tomko, starts against the Orioles in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"There's some serious competition there. We won't lose, whatever decision we make," Little said.

Warmup act: Larry Bigbie prepared for a reunion with the Orioles -- the team that made him a No. 1 draft pick in 1999 and with which he spent the first 4 1/2 seasons of his career -- by lining the RBI single that capped a three-run ninth and gave the Dodgers the win.

A 1-for-3 left Bigbie with a .385 spring average and 10 RBIs, best on the team. But even with injuries to Marlon Anderson (elbow) and Jason Repko (groin), the non-roster outfielder isn't trying to overthink his prospects.

"You have to take it day-by-day and just be prepared for whatever happens," Bigbie said, "When you go into a new clubhouse, it is good to get off to a good start."

Moving out: The club's first camp cuts included one surprised veteran, Damian Jackson, who was granted his release. Jackson had been 2-for-16 (.125) in exhibition play.

Optioned were pitchers Eric Hull, Zach Hammes and Mike Megrew. Reassigned to the Minor League camp were Scott Elbert, A.J. Ellis, Chin-lung Hu, Dario Veras and three others with prior big-league experience: catcher Ken Huckaby, infielder Fernando Tatis and right-hander Travis Smith.

The release of Jackson sounded a note of irony, with the Nationals in Holman Stadium for an exhibition. The versatile 33-year-old spent the 2006 season with Washington, until being released Aug. 25.

Groin pains: A day after he suffered a strain to his right groin muscle, Repko was predictably more optimistic about his prognosis than was the team's medical crew.

Soon after Repko had said he was "pretty happy with how it feels compared to yesterday," Little indicated the outfielder will likely have to refrain from baseball activities until the end of next week.

"We got as good a report as we could expect. Hopefully it won't be as long as it could've been," Little said. "But it will be awhile. Those kinds of things, it can take a couple of days to assess, because no two are the same."

"I feel a lot better than I did 24 hours ago," said Repko, who'd been icing the spot. "There's a lot of improvement, But it is day-to-day, and we'll have to see if there's more improvement [Monday]."

Between the lines: The Dodgers' starting lineup Sunday again featured the oddity of an infield left side comprised of two players with the first name of Wilson -- shortstop Valdez and third baseman Betemit. Not known is what brand of gloves they were using. ... Lightweight center fielder Juan Pierre was fascinated in the clubhouse examining Jonathan Broxton's size-15 cleats. ... No one has autograph days quite like the Dodgers; the entire team hit the field for a half-hour prior to Sunday's game to accomodate fans lined up baseline-to-baseline. ... Noting that he batted behind Nomar Garciaparra when he homered Saturday and behind Jeff Kent when he homered Sunday, Luis Gonzalez said dryly, "It's all about protection, man."

Up next: The Dodgers will board for their first of two trips to Fort Lauderdale to engage the Baltimore Orioles. Tomko, who has already logged four shutout innings, is scheduled to make his second start in the 10:05 a.m. PT encounter.

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