Notes: Dodgers start spring in style

Dodgers notes: Starting spring in style

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Managing against his mentor, Grady Little and the Dodgers won their first game together, beating Bobby Cox and the Braves, 3-2, in the exhibition opener on Thursday.

The game marked the Dodgers debuts of Little, Kenny Lofton (two runs scored), Nomar Garciaparra (flawless at first base), Bill Mueller (an RBI single), and pitchers Aaron Sele (two scoreless innings), Lance Carter (two scoreless innings) and Danys Baez (one scoreless inning).

Starter Brad Penny, who did not throw a competitive pitch last spring as he rehabbed an arm nerve injury, allowed one run in two innings and was pleased with his curveball and changeup.

"I didn't turn [the fastball] loose, but the curveball was probably as good as any time last year," said Penny. "If I can get command of my breaking ball, that would make it easier to pitch. I was so inconsistent with it last year, it hurt me bad."

Outfield prospect Matt Kemp, who hit 27 home runs at Class A last season, saved Tim Hamulack from a bases-loaded mess in the eighth inning when he threw out Matt Diaz at the plate when he tried to score from third on a flyout by Luis Hernandez.

Kemp said he got lucky because the ball slipped out of his hand and sailed to catcher Sandy Alomar on the fly. Little was impressed, lucky or not.

"He looks to me like the total package," Little said of Kemp, who said he hopes to make the Major League club this spring, but will probably go to Double-A. "You can't help but like his offense and defense. It looks like he can do it all to me."

Kelly Wunsch, trying to reclaim his bullpen spot after operations on his ankle and hip, got the save.

In four innings of his first exhibition game at first base (not counting Wednesday's intrasquad game), Garciaparra was busy. He caught five throws for putouts, fielded two grounders and flipped to the pitcher for assists, and fielded another grounder and took it to the bag.

"It's good to get those plays under my belt," said the former All-Star shortstop. "You can practice everything, but you just can't simulate the speed of the game. Confidence will come later, when it's instinctive. It will come when it comes, not when I'm thinking of five million things I have to do."

Little said he was not planning to have Garciaparra switch back to shortstop if Rafael Furcal is not ready for Opening Day, but didn't completely rule it out.

"If the time comes and he's the best option, we'll adjust our thinking," Little said, although he also praised the play of Oscar Robles, who had six assists at shortstop.

No pitcher was more impressive than Carter, who retired all six batters faced, two on strikeouts.

"He looked like he was in midseason form," said Little. "He attacks hitters and throws strikes."

Penciled into the role held by the versatile Giovanni Carrara in recent years, Carter said he has scrapped a cutter he added last spring and is focusing on his money pitch, the changeup.

"Last year, I put [the changeup] on the back burner because I thought I could always throw it, and it cost me," said Carter, acquired with Baez in the Edwin Jackson trade. "I'm going back to what got me to the big leagues. I'm not going to re-create myself. The cutter might be the pitch of the millennium, but it's not something I'm comfortable with."

Offensively, the Dodgers were outhit, 8-4, and all of their runs were unearned, as the Braves committed three errors in the first two innings.

World Baseball Classic update: Jose Cruz Jr. singled in one of the Dodgers' runs in the first inning. Cruz and Ricky Ledee left camp after the game to join the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic, as did Olmedo Saenz for Panama.

Odalis Perez's departure date to join the Dominican Republic team, a moving target since he arrived in camp, has changed again to Monday. He will pitch in the Dodgers' game Sunday against the Mets, and is scheduled to pitch for his homeland Thursday.

DP combo (in theory): Although they've yet to play together for even one pitch, SI.com ranked shortstop Rafael Furcal and second baseman Jeff Kent No. 2 in their top 10 middle infield duos in Baseball Today. The No. 1 ranking in the poll went to Baltimore's Miguel Tejada and Brian Roberts.

The Dodgers can hardly wait to see if the ranking is accurate. Furcal is recovering from knee surgery, and Kent from wrist surgery. There is no estimate when either will be ready to appear in an exhibition game.

Kent is protecting the wrist while taking batting practice, but is now flicking it more assertively on some throws. Furcal is still not participating in live batting practice or ground ball practice, and is running only straight ahead with no cutting.

More injury updates: Although he extended his tossing Thursday to 120 feet, it will be a while longer before Yhency Brazoban and his tender shoulder appear in a spring game.

Brazoban, who came up sore after throwing to batters on Feb. 22, will need to throw several bullpen sessions and possibly live batting practice before he appears in a game, according to pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. That could mean a week or more before Brazoban sees game action.

J.D. Drew, who expects to nurse a healing right shoulder throughout the spring, will make his exhibition debut Friday against his former Atlanta teammates.

Gagne excused: Recovering reliever Eric Gagne left camp to attend to a family matter, and is expected back in time for Sunday's workout. Gagne, on schedule in his return from elbow surgery, will throw on the side Monday and make his exhibition debut Wednesday against Baltimore.

Welch resigns: Bob Welch, most recently the pitching coach at Rookie League Ogden, resigned.

Coming up: The Dodgers and Braves switch sites Friday, with the teams playing at Lake Buena Vista near Orlando. Brett Tomko, signed as a free agent, makes his Dodgers debut against John Thomson. Pitchers also making the trip are Brian Meadows, Franquelis Osoria, Joe Beimel, Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.

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