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Notes: Catching duo a perfect blend

Notes: Catching duo a perfect blend

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti's second year in the director's chair overlooking Chavez Ravine unofficially begins with the annual sneak preview, aka the Freeway Series with the Angels. The theme emerging from Colletti's offseason casting call isn't difficult to spot.

He's counting on a blend of youth and experience.

Dec. 6, 2006, provided a perfect example, as the Dodgers signed veteran catcher Mike Lieberthal, who spent 12 seasons with Philadelphia, two as an All-Star.

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At 35, Lieberthal not only promises to serve as an insurance policy as a more-than-competent backup to last year's rookie surprise, Russell Martin. He's carrying a fund of knowledge to share with the 24-year-old.

If Martin wants to know the "book" on a hitter, Lieberthal has it. Literally.

"For the last three or four years, I've been writing down notes on every hitter in the league," Lieberthal said before Thursday's Freeway Series opener. "I'm probably going to keep writing."

Lieberthal said he expects his value to Martin to express itself in off-field situations such as pregame pitchers-catchers meetings, when "I can put myself where I was in 1995 and 1996 [his first years with the Phillies]."

Martin is grateful for Lieberthal's helping hand and his astute eye. For his part, Lieberthal said, "[Martin] is pretty easy to get along with."

The second-year starting catcher said the opening of the Freeway Series reminded him of how far he'd come since this time a year ago, when he sat edgily in the Dodgers' dugout on a cold night, waiting for a clue as to what 2006 might hold. Now, he's already played a key role in the Colletti-directed turnaround that landed the Dodgers in the playoffs.

After being sent to Triple-A Las Vegas for 23 games early on in 2006, Martin returned as the Dodgers were in the throes of a five-game losing streak. With the rookie in the mix, they won five straight. By the end of the season, Martin had 121 games under his belt, along with a .281 average, 65 RBIs and enough votes for a ninth-place tie in Rookie of the Year balloting.

"I just went out there when the lights turned on and I wasn't going to let the opportunity go," Martin said. "In my first at-bat, I swung at the first pitch and hit a nubber to third. My second time up, I took two pitches and hit a two-run double. It took me an at-bat to figure it out."

Martin laughed as he said that, and Lieberthal can relate to the self-effacing humor. If only it were that easy -- especially when it comes to calling a game behind the plate. Not to put a damper on Martin's comfort zone or anything but ...

"He's only been around the league once," Lieberthal said.

Little ball: Manager Grady Little told reporters before the game he was OK with a six-week Spring Training schedule.

"I guess if they shortened it to five weeks, there'd be people who'd want to change it to four.

Little said Rafael Furcal's status still was iffy, as the shortstop's sprained ankle might keep him sidelined for the first week of the season.

The manager likes what he's heard and seen of newly acquired outfielder Brady Clark.

"He's a player who gives you everything he's got on the field, and his work habits are second to none."

As for new Dodgers center fielder Juan Pierre, Little said that when it comes to work habits, Pierre is in a class by himself.

"He comes to the clubhouse earlier than some of the coaches sometime -- and that's too early."

Little said Nomar Garciaparra would join the club Friday after spending the day with his wife, Mia Hamm, and their newborn twin daughters.

Dodgers feel lucky: The Dodgers and the California Lottery this week unveiled the newest game in town: a customized Scratchers game under the Dodgers logo, offering fans the opportunity to win cash prizes up to $10,000, as well as an array of prizes that include once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as a night in a luxury suite, dinner and pregame batting practice, a weekend road trip with the team and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium.

The program, which also features the other four California Major League teams, debuted on Tuesday night and will run throughout the season, said lottery spokesman Rob McAndrews.

"It's a great opportunity for schools [chief beneficiaries of lottery proceeds] and great branding for the Dodgers," said Marty Greenspun, the club's executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Next up: The Freeway Series rolls on, as Friday night's matchup at Dodger Stadium features a battle of right-handers, Ervin Santana of the Angels and Jason Schmidt -- the latter's first home appearance in a Dodgers uniform. First pitch is set for 7:40 p.m. PT.

Ted Brock is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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