Notes: Little to ride three horses

Notes: Little to ride three horses

SAN FRANCISCO -- Manager Grady Little hasn't completely revealed his future game-by-game scheduled starting pitchers, but he knows which ones to rely on.

"We'll do our best to run [Brad] Penny, [Derek] Lowe and [Greg] Maddux out there as close as we can to their regular rotation," said Little. "We feel that's how we'll have the best chance to win."

Which means, depending on the scheduling and days off, Mark Hendrickson and Chad Billingsley could be skipped or pushed back, perhaps even making a relief appearance.

Billingsley and Hendrickson will make their next scheduled starts Monday and Tuesday in San Diego. Penny wraps up that series Wednesday night, then a Thursday day off will be followed by Maddux opening next weekend's series in Phoenix.

Furcal answers the bell: Shortstop Rafael Furcal, who came out of Friday night's game with a stiff right shoulder he blamed on the inactivity of two days off, was back in the starting lineup for Saturday night.

"The trainers have been working on him and he says he's good to go, and that's what I go by," said Little. "He says he feels different every time after an off-day. Maybe he knows better than I do. All I know is the last two or three months, he's been one of the best players on the field for us."

Furcal has climbed into the league leaders in hits, multihit games, stolen bases, runs scored and batting average with runners in scoring position. He's played in 120 of the Dodgers' 122 games, 11 more than the next-highest Dodger, J.D. Drew.

No lefties, no problem: The return of James Loney to Triple-A left the Dodgers bench with no left-handed pinch-hitters. Don't try convincing Little that he's left with a tactical disadvantage in matchups.

"In my mind, it is [overrated]," he said of the lefty-vs.-righty strategy. "I want to go with the best people. I've never been in full agreement with that. You can single out instances when it backfires and my thinking is not altogether wrong."

Upcoming negotiations: In a year when the Collective Bargaining Agreement between labor and management is set to expire and with negotiations on a new one already under way, the Dodgers are into their second season without an official player representative.

Paul Lo Duca was the player rep until his trade in 2004, when alternate David Ross took over. The next spring, Ross was dealt to Pittsburgh and alternate Jayson Werth unofficially took over. But Werth has been injured all season and has rarely been with the club.

The closest the Dodgers have to a current player rep is Mark Hendrickson, who was the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' player rep until his trade to the Dodgers on June 27.

"I found it insightful to hear all the things that were going on," Hendrickson said of the offseason update meetings he's attended the last two years.

The Dodgers held a union update meeting last month in Arizona, where they were briefed by Players Association executive director Don Fehr. Hendrickson, in his fourth Major League season, said his unofficial role as a relayer of information from the union is made easier by the presence of numerous veterans on the roster.

"There are guys like Kenny [Lofton] and Jeff [Kent] who know what's going on," he said.

Ageless Lofton: The assumption when Lofton signed a one-year contract was that he'd provide a stop-gap solution, but you can't tell by the way he looks or the way he plays that he's 39.

Lofton hit .335 last year and is at .317 this year, and in combination he trails only Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera for highest two-year averages with at least 600 plate appearances. In what is supposed to be the dog days of August, he's batting .453.

"The first few years I played, I started to understand how tough it is to stay strong, so I started planning around that and I don't kill myself early, so by the time we get to where you need to be strong, I am," said Lofton. "It doesn't pay to wear yourself out and have nothing left. I learned that from watching the veterans."

Lofton is now one of those veterans that provide leadership by example.

"I learned a lot early on by just listening," he said. "I would just sit back and listen to what they would say and I became very aware of my surroundings, taking tips and making mental notes of what you need to do and how to do it. I've always believed the little things make the difference. You see somebody like Greg Maddux, just watch the way he goes about it. You don't have to ask any questions, don't have to say anything to him.

"When I was young, I listened and watched guys like Eddie [Murray], Dave Winfield. I wasn't around Kirby Puckett as a teammate, but I was around him enough as a friend to gain from his wisdom and knowledge. Sometimes, the young kids, the bonus babies, they know it all. They can learn from watching, too."

Coming up: Derek Lowe (10-8, 3.97 ERA) opposes Matt Morris (8-10, 4.62) in Sunday's series finale.

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