"We're looking for someone to get hot," said manager Grady Little, who started Abreu at third base Tuesday night against Milwaukee. "The guy's been hitting .350 or .360 all season long and we're going to give him a chance. He's earned the right. From all reports, he's one of the best players in the [Pacific Coast] League, if not the best. "
The 22-year-old Abreu, who has been rotated defensively at third base, shortstop and second base, was batting .347, and his 35 runs scored in 39 games ranked second in the PCL. He hit his second home run Monday night.
"The kid brings life, he brings, energy, he brings productivity," Little said of Abreu. "After playing the team south of town [the Angels, who swept three games from the Dodgers over the weekend], that's exactly what we were beaten by."
The switch-hitting Abreu batted .340 in Spring Training as a non-roster invitee and emerged as a potential candidate to eventually replace 39-year-old second baseman Jeff Kent. Originally signed as a shortstop, he had been exclusively a second baseman until this year.
"I really feel like I'm still learning, but I know enough to play," he said of playing third base.
Abreu batted eighth Tuesday night, but he led off in Las Vegas, and if he's productive, he could find himself batting second behind Rafael Furcal, with Juan Pierre dropped to eighth.
"None of us should be assuming anything about our batting order at this time," Little said.
Abreu was the fifth starting third baseman the Dodgers have used in 46 games this year.
Pitching fallout: Little indicated more changes are on the way. He said fifth starter Brett Tomko would be skipped in the rotation and was non-committal whether Tomko (1-5, 6.28 ERA) might be removed entirely. Randy Wolf will move up and pitch Sunday.
Little said Kuo will return to the Las Vegas rotation Wednesday night with the intent to build enough endurance to rejoin the Dodgers as a starter, if needed.
"He was right there [with Tomko] in the running for the fifth starter until his injury [in Spring Training]," said Little. "At this point in time, that's where we feel he'll be the most productive."
Little said he might do the same with Chad Billingsley, another starter who has been transferred to the bullpen. Billingsley has had flashes of brilliance in relief, but he also was on the mound Monday night when five runs scored to cost the Dodgers the game. For now, with Kuo gone and the Dodgers back to 11 pitchers, Billingsley is the long reliever.
Kuo made only two Major League appearances after a Minor League injury rehab assignment and had a 15.43 ERA after beginning the season on the disabled list with a shoulder strain. He was called up to provide a 12th pitcher, which the Dodgers feel is not currently necessary with two days off in the next week.
LaRoche fallout: Abreu's arrival figures to cost Andy LaRoche playing time, but LaRoche won't argue.
"He deserves to be up there," said LaRoche, who is hitting .233 with no homers since his promotion two weeks ago. "You can't keep him down the way he's hitting. If he helps the team win, everybody would rather have him in the lineup than me. I hope he doesn't send me back to Vegas, but if it happens, I've got to start producing more. That's the way the game goes. I'm excited to watch him."
Little said he might use LaRoche in left field to spell Luis Gonzalez, which would take playing time away from fourth outfielder Brady Clark.
Schmidt throwing hard: Coming off his impressive bullpen simulated game Sunday, Jason Schmidt was firing bullets in an equally encouraging bullpen session Tuesday. Schmidt is throwing much harder than at any time since he joined the club.
He is scheduled to face hitters on Friday for the first time since being disabled April 15 with shoulder bursitis. Schmidt will probably face hitters twice and require at least two rehab starts before he can return to the Dodgers rotation. Although the club resists providing a timetable, he's on pace to return by mid-June. Decreased velocity was a red flag leading up to Schmidt's placement on the disabled list after making three starts.
Coming up: In Wednesday night's series finale, Brad Penny (5-1, 2.54) opposes Milwaukee's Chris Capuano (5-2, 3.72) at 7:10 p.m. PT.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.