Notes: Good news, bad news

Notes: Good news, bad news

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The MRI on shortstop Rafael Furcal's sprained ankle must have been clean, because during Sunday's game Furcal played catch with a team trainer near the batting cages, his first baseball activity since suffering the injury Thursday.

Furcal said he came through that test fine and he expects to be ready for Opening Day.

"I think so. I think I'll be ready for that," he said when asked about the April 2 opener in Milwaukee. "It's still a little sore, not 100 percent, but it's feeling very good, better than before."

Furcal turned the ankle in a collision with outfielder Jason Repko. He is walking without crutches and the swelling is still apparent, but reduced significantly from the day of the injury.

Furcal said the injury is very similar to one he suffered in the spring of 2002 with the Braves. He said he missed less than one week of games and went on to play 154 games that season.

Other health concerns: Not as fortunate are Repko, who pulled a left hamstring two innings after the collision, and Hong-Chih Kuo, who irritated a muscle in the back of his rotator cuff area one day earlier.

Repko said his MRI will be evaluated by three different doctors Monday, but his tear is significant enough that he likely is facing surgery that could jeopardize his season. Repko's biggest asset is his running speed, so anything less than 100 percent and his value to the club diminishes.

Repko, expected to be the fourth outfielder, said he broke down emotionally when he realized the severity of the injury.

"You prepare the whole offseason and work so hard to do well, it's unbelievable," he said.

Repko's career has been plagued by injuries. In his first full professional season of 2000 he suffered a torn right hamstring in extended Spring Training and he played only eight games that year.

"I can't compare this one to that, it was seven years ago. They both hurt," he said.

The following year he fractured vertebrae in his back. Last year he missed two months with a bad ankle sprain and earlier this spring he missed 10 days with a strained groin muscle.

Kuo said he cannot throw for two to three weeks, or until the inflammation is gone. He said he initially felt some discomfort in a March 14 rain-abbreviated start against Boston, when he allowed three homers in 2 1/3 innings. He said he told trainers of muscle soreness, but it "got a little bit better every day."

He had a bullpen session two days later and "felt all right, a little sore, but that's normal." He started in place of Brad Penny on Wednesday and walked four with four wild pitches in three innings and has been shut down ever since.

Scramble to replace Repko: The fourth outfielder spot is so jumbled that Matt Kemp, who almost certainly was headed to play every day at Triple-A Las Vegas, jumped back into the picture because he's had an impressive week. He has the speed to play center field and can hit right-handed.

"We've had to change our thinking a little bit," said manager Grady Little. "It comes down to how much sitting do we want this guy to do. We have several players [James Loney is another] we think highly of."

Larry Bigbie, who said he has a Wednesday escape clause if he's not on the team, probably will be. His remarkable spring continued Sunday with a two-out, RBI single in the bottom of the ninth that resulted in a dramatic comeback victory.

"I think I've had a good enough spring where I belong on somebody's roster," said Bigbie, who is hitting .396 with a team-high 14 RBIs in 48 at-bats.

Meanwhile, Loney is making it virtually impossible to leave him off the roster. With three more hits Sunday his average is up to .444. He started in right field, where Little said Andre Ethier is still his starter, but Little cautioned reporters when the discussion turned to Loney returning to Triple-A.

"You've already got him in Triple-A and we haven't set the roster," Little said. "You might be a little off base."

Loney had trouble with a Grady Sizemore triple hit over his head, but Little seems willing to live with him as a novice outfielder.

"I have no doubt he'll drive in more runs than he lets in," Little said.

Loney wasn't thrilled with the suggestion of Triple-A, either.

"When I think of going there, it's like a kick in the stomach," said the Triple-A batting champ. "I just think about being ready to help this team. I hope what I'm doing matters. If it doesn't matter here, I hope it matters somewhere."

Schmidt's outing: In the top of the third inning, with a week to go before Opening Day and Jason Schmidt having a wild inning, Little went to the mound essentially to tell the right-hander to knock it off.

"Something needed to change," said Little. "I wanted to make sure he broke up the rhythm of what he was doing. He kept getting better the last few innings. He's not where he wants to be, but this was better than his previous start. He's not really alarmed. Until that happens, we're not really alarmed."

Schmidt minimized the damage, allowing only one run over five innings. His ERA is 5.06.

Game recap: Nomar Garciaparra doubled home a pair of runs. Rudy Seanez had his first tough outing of the spring the first time he worked consecutive days, allowing a two-run homer to Shin-Soo Choo, but he still appears to have won a short-relief spot in the bullpen.

Koufax sighting: Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax worked briefly in the bullpen area with Brett Tomko Sunday.

Dwight Clark visits: Former NFL wide receiver Dwight Clark, who grew up near Little, was his guest at Dodgertown.

Coming up: Penny, who missed his last start with stiffness at the top of his pitching shoulder, starts Monday against the Mets at Port St. Lucie. Penny is still scheduled to start Game 4 of the regular season at San Francisco. Mark Hendrickson will also pitch for the Dodgers. Tom Glavine starts for the Mets.

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