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Notes: Furcal slowly improving

Notes: Furcal slowly improving

SAN FRANCISCO -- Rafael Furcal continues to make steady progress in his recovery from a sprained ankle.

That said, he won't be activated from the disabled list Saturday, even though he'll be eligible. And it doesn't look like his return is imminent.

For the first time Friday, Furcal did some quick sprints and made some gentle turns, then took batting practice and fielded ground balls during the team's pregame batting practice.

While all of those are positive signs, the qualifier is that he still is favoring his left side noticeably. While hitting, he did so only right-handed and let go of the bat with his right hand so he would not shift body weight on the follow-through. He did not bat left-handed, which would require him to be firmly planted on the injured ankle.

On the ground balls, they were hit directly at him so he would not be required to change direction, and he landed softly on his left foot on his return throws.

"He's coming along," said manager Grady Little. "We're still not sure when he'll be able to play."

Furcal is notorious for wanting to play every day. By missing his fourth game Friday night, he's already missed more games this year than he did all of last year. And it's apparent he still has some significant healing left based on his comments.

"I'll be there soon, but I don't know when," he said. "I'm feeling better and better, but I don't want to play when I'm a little sore and then have to miss a lot of games. I don't want to rush and make it worse."

Check the schedule: Contrary to what everybody thought about that game Monday in Milwaukee ...

"It's my Opening Day tomorrow," said Mike Lieberthal, who will get his first start behind the plate as a Dodger on Saturday against the Giants. "And then I won't catch for another week and a half."

Lieberthal isn't complaining. He knew what he was signing up for as the backup to rising star Russell Martin. It's just that after a decade of being a starter and a two-time All-Star, it's an adjustment.

"It's pretty easy, actually," he said. "It's what I expected it to be. My routine has changed. I'm running a lot more before the game on the treadmill and on the bike. I'm catching in the bullpen during the game to keep the receiving skills sharp. I'm watching film after the game of the pitchers and what Russell is calling.

"It's weird not being in there every day. It's different. I almost feel like I'm kind of a coach, because if you're the backup catcher and there's only two of us, if you don't start, you're probably not getting in the game at all. You're held back, so you're not going to get in almost any game."

Lieberthal is expected to start in situations just like Saturday, a day game after a night game. He will be catching Derek Lowe.

Tomko on Tuesday: Fifth starter Brett Tomko is set to start Tuesday's game against Colorado. Unless Little finds a spot for him Friday night or Saturday, it will be Tomko's first appearance since working two innings in relief March 31 in the Freeway Series. That will be two innings in 14 days.

"He'll be ready to pitch," said Little.

They like it here: The last time the Dodgers played in San Francisco, they defeated the Giants to tie for the National League West title one day after clinching a postseason berth. The Oct. 1 victory gave Los Angeles five consecutive wins at this ballpark dating back to Aug. 19 and seven out of nine games dating back to the beginning of 2006. However, if you go back to 2003, the two teams have split their 76 total games with 38 wins each.

Home opener plans: Monday's home opener at Dodger Stadium will feature a concert and national anthem by 17-year-old country music star Taylor Swift, a ceremonial first pitch from Steve Sax in honor of the 25th anniversary of his Rookie of the Year season and several elements to honor the U.S. military. As has become an annual tradition, Dodgers players and coaches will greet fans at the turnstiles as they enter the stadium.

Penny seeks double: Even before Brad Penny took the mound Friday night, he was feeling like a winner.

On the Thursday day off, a 3-year-old gelding Penny co-owns won the fourth race at Santa Anita. Cinder Cone, ridden by Clinton Potts, scored a 2 1/4-length victory in the $48,000 maiden race. Penny owns (solely or in partnership) seven thoroughbreds.

Coming up: Little skipped the fifth starter to keep Opening Day starter Lowe on a five-day rotation, and he will pitch Saturday's game against the Giants and Russ Ortiz. Lowe is 2-4 with a 3.91 career ERA against the Giants and was 1-1 with a 5.68 ERA in two starts last year. Ortiz has a 5.05 ERA in 20 career games against the Dodgers.

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

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