Notes: Mueller to help infielders

Notes: Mueller to help infielders

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The Dodgers will put Bill Mueller back in uniform Saturday, but don't jump to wild conclusions.

He's still retired as a player and staying that way.

The club is turning him from the highest-paid assistant to the general manager to the highest-paid infield instructor.

It's all part of his first Spring Training in transition, retired as a former batting champ because of a degenerative knee and now learning the ropes as an executive-in-training.

Mueller was one of general manager Ned Colletti's first signings two winters back, inking a two-year, $9.5 million contract that pays him $4.5 million in 2007, guaranteed whether he plays or not. He was signed to play third base and fill the black hole left by the departure of Adrian Beltre.

But Mueller's already balky right knee broke down in late April and didn't respond to a third operation in early May. The knee is irreparably crippled with arthritis and might eventually need to be replaced.

He officially retired in November and joined Colletti's front office. He's done player evaluation, was part of the Winter Meetings contingent and journeyed to the Dominican Republic for winter-ball scouting.

"It's been a tough transition, no doubt about it," said Mueller. "In the same breath, I'm at peace with it."

Mueller will address the team, then hit the field. Asked if he had any specific projects -- he laughed when third-base prospect Andy La Roche's name was mentioned -- Mueller said he's been preparing his speech and he has some ideas in mind of what he wants to say and do on the field this Spring Training.

He said the most enjoyable part of his new job is working with Colletti and the staff he's put together. The toughest part of the transition is predictable.

"Not being a player," he said.

Mueller, 36 next month, played two previous seasons under Dodgers manager Grady Little while both were in Boston, and last year marked his third stint with Colletti, the first two coming when Colletti was the assistant general manager in San Francisco. Colletti was in that role when the Giants drafted Mueller out of Southwest Missouri State University in 1993.

Do the math: The Dodgers won't pick their Opening Day 25-man roster until Opening Day, but if they did it now, with everybody healthy and nobody traded, a bunch of familiar names would be starting the season at Triple-A Las Vegas.

Little said he won't decide whether to carry 11 or 12 pitchers until late in Spring Training. If he opens with 11 pitchers because of days off in April, chances are there would be room for either Chad Billingsley or Hong-Chih Kuo (but not both) and only one from this trio: James Loney, Matt Kemp and La Roche.

If they start with 12 pitchers, conceivably all three of those top position prospects would return to Triple-A, even though Loney led all Triple-A with a .380 batting average last year.

Infielders who figure to make the club are first baseman Nomar Garciaparra, second baseman Jeff Kent, shortstop Rafael Furcal and third baseman Wilson Betemit. Olmedo Saenz can back up the corners, Ramon Martinez can play the middle positions and Marlon Anderson, who took over left field in September, has been working at second base.

In the outfield, Luis Gonzalez, Juan Pierre and Andre Ethier will probably start and Jason Repko is likely to return as the fourth outfielder because he can play center field. With catchers Russell Martin and Mike Lieberthal, that's 13 position players without including Loney, Kemp or La Roche.

The pitching staff is equally loaded. The top four starters are Derek Lowe, Jason Schmidt, Brad Penny and Randy Wolf. Takashi Saito is the closer, Jonathan Broxton is the setup man and Joe Beimel the situational left-hander. Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson are candidates for the fifth spot along with Billingsley and Kuo, the former two with hefty salaries. Swingman Elmer Dessens' spot could be the only one up for competition, even though he has a $1 million guaranteed contract.

That makes only long-shot chances for non-roster veterans like pitchers Joe Mays and Rudy Saenez, infielders Damian Jackson and Fernando Tatis, catchers Kelly Stinnett, Ken Huckaby and Sandy Martinez and outfielders Larry Bigbie and Choo Freeman.

Intrasquad game: Little said the club will play a four- or five-inning intrasquad game Wednesday, a day before the exhibition opener against the Braves in Orlando. Little said the purpose will be to provide innings to some pitchers and will not necessarily be used as trials for players in unfamiliar positions, like Loney and La Roche in the outfield.

Lowe, Tomko, Joe Mays, D.J. Houlton, Mike Megrew and Zach Hammes are scheduled to pitch, which means Schmidt, Penny and Wolf are likely candidates to start the official exhibition opener against Atlanta.

Tough luck: This stat, courtesy of John Dewan at Acta Sports ...

Lowe, who tied for the league lead with 16 victories in 2006, also tied for all of baseball in leads blown by his bullpen with six. Meanwhile, teammate Penny and Arizona's Cy Young winner Brandon Webb were tied with all of their leads protected. All three pitchers won 16 games.

Historic speaker: Travel advisor and former traveling secretary Billy DeLury addressed the team, delivering a history lesson on Dodgertown and Holman Stadium. DeLury first came to Dodgertown in 1951 when he worked in the Brooklyn Dodgers' mail room.

Scully honored: Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully will receive the John R. Wooden Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Sports Legends Awards on Saturday at the Omni Hotel in Los Angeles. The event, open to the public, is presented by the Paralysis Project of America to benefit spinal cord research.

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