LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers manager Joe Torre on Friday issued the most encouraging update yet on Rafael Furcal, saying he could begin a Minor League injury rehabilitation assignment as soon as next week.
"He's getting along very well," Torre said of his shortstop, who has been out since May 6 with a disk problem in his lower back. "He said he feels better at this point than last time. As long as he goes forward, he'll go to San Diego with us. Then, hopefully, by the time we leave there, he'll be ready to play games somewhere."
The implication was that Furcal would play Minor League games at either Class A Inland Empire or Triple-A Las Vegas while the Dodgers are in Detroit next weekend. Torre said it would be "reasonable" to conclude that Furcal could rejoin the club by the time it opens a series in Cincinnati June 17.
"That's the tentative plan," Furcal said.
Of course, as Torre noted, Furcal was close to returning two weeks ago before relapsing. And the fact that Furcal missed the last 12 games of the 2007 season with the same problem has the club concerned about a chronic condition.
Even with the current timetable, Furcal will miss roughly six weeks. Entering Friday night's game, the Dodgers were 19-14 with Furcal in the lineup and 9-18 without him, which is why management acquired Angel Berroa from Kansas City Friday.
There also was good news regarding Jason Schmidt, who will step it up two notches by making his next rehab start on Sunday at Triple-A Las Vegas. Schmidt appears to be on schedule to return to the Major Leagues almost exactly one year after his June 20, 2007 shoulder surgery.
Catching Schmidt for Las Vegas will be Gary Bennett, who's close to moving up from a Class A rehab assignment as he recovers from an injured foot and a mental block returning throws to the mound.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.