Notes: Little turning to youth movement

Notes: Little turning to youth movement

PHOENIX -- Grady Little started an infield of rookies on Sunday, and while he said it in part was to match up with Arizona starting pitcher Edgar Gonzalez, it also was surely a glimpse of the future of an organization publicly suffering growing pains.

Little had James Loney at first, Tony Abreu at second, Chin-Lung Hu at shortstop and Andy LaRoche at third base. Except for the absence of injured shortstop Rafael Furcal, it could resemble next year's alignment, particularly if second baseman Jeff Kent does not return, which club officials concede is an increasing possibility in light of recent developments.

A week ago against Gonzalez, Little played Loney, Kent, Furcal and LaRoche and the Dodgers lost, 6-1.

Abreu paid immediate dividends on Sunday with a solo home run in the first inning.

Little said over the last week of the season he will mix in young players while being mindful of the integrity of the game. He indicated his handling of games against Colorado, which is still alive for a Wild Card berth, would differ from the games against the Giants, who have been eliminated.

The manager was more willing to discuss details of the past few days, which included Kent airing grievances about the approach of young players on the team, replies from young players Matt Kemp and Loney and meetings Little held with Kent and, on Sunday, with Kemp and Loney.

"It's all part of the learning and teaching," Little said of his meeting with Kemp and Loney. "It doesn't stop when the players get to the Major Leagues. I talk to everyone. If they need more talking, I'll do more talking."

Although general manager Ned Colletti has said repeatedly that Little will return as manager in 2008, Little has been under siege as the Dodgers have fallen out of the postseason race. Veterans have criticized his lineups, game management and his tolerance of the independence exhibited by rookies in a clubhouse that has become increasingly divided by age.

Little has dismissed the controversial comments as the inevitable result of the frustration caused by unmet expectations. He said he is confident in the returning nucleus of the team, although he would not specify which players form that nucleus.

"The fans have got to watch and decide for themselves," he said. "No one likes to be in the position we're in now. We will look at all ways to improve. None of us wants to experience this again. We will not necessarily go through this next year, because it won't be all the same people."

Little said he believes the Dodgers are "real close" to being ready to turn over their future to young players, the way the Arizona Diamondbacks have successfully done.

Injury update: Furcal said he will undergo an MRI on his ailing left ankle, which was originally injured during Spring Training and has bothered him the entire season. The ankle is still noticeably swollen.

Furcal currently remains unable to play with persistent lower back spasms, but he believes even those are linked to compensating for the ankle.

This is the first season Furcal will not be in the postseason since he broke into the Major Leagues with Atlanta in 2000.

Catcher Mike Lieberthal, who held his ground in a home-plate collision that erased Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds on Saturday night, said he did not believe he suffered any serious injury. The play occurred in the first inning, and Lieberthal caught all eight innings.

Reliever Eric Hull reported improvement in a strained groin muscle suffered last Sunday, but said he had no set return date.

Proctor on a roll: Reliever Scott Proctor, whose fastball Saturday night was clocked as high as 102 mph, has not allowed an earned run in 13 1/3 innings, and he has 12 strikeouts in 9 1/3 September innings while holding opposing hitters to a .176 average. Proctor has a 2.83 ERA since joining the Dodgers in a trade with the Yankees for Wilson Betemit. Proctor's ERA with the Yankees was 3.81. Meanwhile, Betemit is hitting .224 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 31 games in New York after hitting .231 with 10 homers and 26 RBIs in 84 games with the Dodgers.

Coming up: Brad Penny (16-4, 2.93 ERA) opens the final homestand of the season on Tuesday night, opposing the Rockies and Ubaldo Jimenez (4-4, 4.14).

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