Notes: Martin making his mark

Notes: Martin making his mark

VIERA, Fla. -- Dioner Navarro, with an .063 batting average and a strained hamstring, still projects to be the Opening Day catcher for the Dodgers.

But Russell Martin was told when camp opened that he would be given a chance to win the job, and he's doing everything possible to make it happen.

With a three-run homer and four RBIs Monday night, Martin raised his spring average to .400. While Martin is capitalizing on expanded playing time in Navarro's absence, Navarro is working like a madman to get back on the field.

Navarro added batting practice and light jogging to playing catch, and Monday he said he feels no pain in the hamstring muscle he strained last week. He said he's relatively confident he will be at full strength for the start of the season.

"But I haven't really tested it yet and I don't need to yet," he said. "I haven't squatted. But it's really coming along good because I'm working hard every day. That's the difference in a guy who has an injury for a month and a guy who has one for two weeks. It's hard work."

There's only room on the Major League club for one of them, with Sandy Alomar Jr. the veteran backup. Unless Navarro opens the season on the disabled list, Martin figures to be at Triple-A Las Vegas. He's just not playing like a Minor Leaguer.

"This is definitely a confidence booster for sure," Martin said. "The pitchers like throwing to me and that tells me I'm doing a decent job behind the plate. I feel like I can compete at this level."

Martin said starting pitcher Brad Penny's breaking ball showed improvement in his five-inning outing Monday, which was marred by a two-run first inning. Penny retired the last 10 batters he faced.

"He was overthrowing everything there and it took an inning or two for him to get his composure back, but he made the adjustment," said Martin.

Guzman still in the mix: If 21-year-old Joel Guzman hasn't yet done enough to win an everyday outfield job, he has Dodgers manager Grady Little toying with the thought of keeping him in the Major Leagues in a utility role.

Little originally said if Guzman doesn't play every day in the big leagues, he would play every day in the Minor Leagues. Little backed a bit off that position on Monday, even though it would be highly unusual for a top prospect jumping from Double-A.

"It's sticky. There are very few people who think he can't help our club, but is it the best thing for him?" said Little. "He's done a great job adjusting to the outfield, making all the plays, and I'm confident he can do other things defensively, like shortstop and first and third base. In left field, he looks like Dave Winfield."

Little said deciding whether to start the season with 11 or 12 pitchers will dictate which players -- and what kind of players -- are needed to fill out the remaining position spots. The most likely scenario would be 11 pitchers, at least initially with fifth starter Jae Seo in the bullpen.

Going with 12 pitchers might make Guzman's infield/outfield versatility even more tempting, because he essentially could serve the purpose of two position players. Because Oscar Robles is a left-handed hitter, the right-handed Guzman would probably make the team at the expense of right-handed-hitting utilityman Ramon Martinez. Guzman had a single and two RBIs Monday night.

A linked bench decision is what to do with Hee-Seop Choi, who returned from the World Baseball Classic and made the trip Monday. With Nomar Garciaparra starting at first base and Choi unable to play anywhere else, he would be the second left-handed hitter off the bench after Ricky Ledee, especially if Robles is not on the club. With Ledee and Robles on the club, Choi could be a numbers victim.

Little said he would need to watch Choi play to make an evaluation, although Choi is a known quantity - left-handed power, but lacking consistency. Little also praised the play of Willy Aybar, another utility infielder who had an impressive September call-up and is still competing for a job.

Seo and Odalis Perez will rejoin the club from their Classic duties Tuesday. Perez will pitch in a Minor League game, while Seo will drop into the rotation and start Thursday.

Cutdowns: The Dodgers reassigned five players out of Major League camp and none of them was a surprise, although one of them was pitcher Chad Billingsley, considered by many as the best prospect in the organization.

The others were left-handed reliever Joe Beimel, first baseman James Loney and outfielders Matt Kemp and Delwyn Young.

"I was kind of expecting it," said the 21-year-old Billingsley, who had a 3.86 ERA in 9 1/3 innings. "I felt I threw well and that's all I can do. I feel I gave them a good look and if something happens to somebody up there, they'll think of me."

Beimel was one of four left-handed relief contenders, leaving Kelly Wunsch, Hong-Chih Kuo and Tim Hamulack.

Kemp, who hit 27 home runs at Class A Vero Beach, is expected to play at Double-A Jacksonville this year. The other four are likely headed to Las Vegas.

Coming up: Aaron Sele starts for the Dodgers on Tuesday in Jupiter against Florida. Also scheduled to pitch are Lance Carter and Kuo. Scheduled for Florida are Jason Vargas, Travis Bowyer and Chris Resop.

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