Notes: Lowe to be Opening Day starter

Notes: Lowe named Opening Day starter

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Derek Lowe was named the starting pitcher for the Dodgers' April 2 opener in Milwaukee by manager Grady Little on Tuesday morning.

Little said internal debate continues regarding the order in which Lowe will be followed, based on the way the pitchers and opposing clubs match up. Brad Penny and newcomers Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf are confirmed in the rotation, while there is a scramble for the fifth spot that involves Brett Tomko, Mark Hendrickson, Chad Billingsley and Hong-Chih Kuo, among others.

"This is by far the best rotation since I've been here," Lowe said. "Everyone has a different style and ability. We're not only good, but really good and that's what you need to contend deep into the postseason."

Little said the fifth starter probably will be skipped once in the first two weeks of the season because of days off. Lowe said he was pleased with that decision because it allows him to remain on a five-day rotation.

Lowe went 16-8 last year with a 3.63 ERA in his second season with the Dodgers. The nine-year veteran was the losing pitcher on Opening Day of 2006, allowing seven earned runs in five innings to Atlanta in an 11-10 loss. He also was the losing pitcher in his Dodgers debut Opening Day of 2005, being outdueled by future teammate Schmidt and the Giants in a 3-2 loss.

Who leads off? Rafael Furcal, last year's leadoff hitter, checked into camp, joining new teammate Juan Pierre. Little has yet to reveal which one he plans to bat leadoff this year, although he's been hinting that it would be Pierre because Furcal has shown to be the more versatile hitter and more adaptable to batting second.

Furcal said he would do whatever is asked, although leading off is his preference.

"Last year it was a good combination, me and Kenny Lofton, a perfect combination, and Pierre is like Lofton, almost the same," said Furcal. "Second is a little tougher if they want you to pull because I'm a little guy and I hit where the pitch is. But I help my team no matter where they want me. If we win, it's no problem hitting anywhere."

Little said he would soon meet with Furcal to discuss the batting order.

Furcal said he has come to camp much healthier than a year who, when he was coming off knee surgery. That led to a flurry of nagging injuries that hampered Furcal the first month of the season.

Nomar plays first: During contract negotiations the possibility was raised that Nomar Garciaparra could be moved to a different position, but when he arrived Tuesday for his second Spring as a Dodger, Little said Garciaparra is a first baseman, although he qualified that with "at this time." Garciaparra said his offer stands, but the club hasn't mentioned it lately.

The thought during the winter was that if the Dodgers could get a slugger who happened to be a first baseman, Garciaparra might move to third. Or if a slugging second baseman was obtained, Jeff Kent might move to first and Garciaparra again could shift to third.

For now, Garciaparra said he's healed from last year's injuries, particularly the two he ended the year with -- a strained quad and sprained knee. He spent the winter resting, rehabbing and preparing with soccer star wife Mia Hamm for the April arrival of twins.

Little said he would employ a strategy similar to that used for J.D. Drew last year to give Garciaparra a little more rest in hopes of keeping him healthier. Little said in addition to James Loney, temporary first-base options include Jeff Kent, Olmedo Saenz and Marlon Anderson.

Gonzo arrives: Luis Gonzalez has a scar on his left leg from the Class A game at Holman Stadium when he was struck by the barrel of a bat while sitting in the unprotected dugout, so he's not exactly a stranger to Dodgertown.

But this spring he's a 39-year-old Dodgers left fielder. His career in Arizona -- which included a World Series-winning hit -- ended with aspersions cast on him by the team owner and no effort by the club to keep him.

"I'm sure when we go back to Arizona, they'll make a big to-do," he said. "I spent eight years there, we won a championship, I have a lot of great memories. A chip on my shoulder? Of course I'll want to go 10-for-2. But the overall picture, I want to help this team any way I can."

He chose the Dodgers because he wants another shot at the ring, he considers their roster championship-caliber and has always enjoyed playing in Dodger Stadium. He'll bat fifth, protecting Kent, even though his 57-homer seasons are probably behind him.

"You'll hear the ribbing -- he's getting old -- but I still come to play," he said. "The game has changed a lot. A lot of young players feel something is owed to them. I still go out and earn it. I won't get Wally Pipped. I want to play. I feel rejuvenated."

Dean of the Dodgers: That would be 36-year-old Olmedo Saenz. With the departure of Eric Gagne, Saenz has spent more continuous time on the roster than any Dodgers player. He made the club in 2004 as a non-roster player and no other current Dodger has been on the Major League roster as long as three full seasons.

"That's unbelievable," he said. "I never would have thought I'd be in that position. Wow. It just shows you, people come and go. Nobody is more important than the game. The best players go and here we are. I'll leave and the game will keep going. That's why you respect the game."

Medical update: Takashi Saito had another bullpen session of greater intensity Tuesday with no ill effects from his strained calf muscle. Tomko's sprained ankle is not expected to prevent him from another bullpen session Wednesday, when one-third of the Dodgers' pitchers will begin throwing live batting practice.

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