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Notes: Furcal ready for free-agent year

Notes: Furcal ready for free-agent year

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Having been through this with the Braves three years ago, Rafael Furcal has a much better grip on how to handle his free agency year.

"I want to stay, but if they don't want me to, that's fine," the Dodgers shortstop said after reporting to Dodgertown on Tuesday, one day before the first full-squad workout. "If they pick up a young guy, that's not a problem. I'll go to the field and do the best I can do."

Furcal never wanted to leave the Braves after the 2005 season, but Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Colletti was criticized in some circles for outbidding the Braves and Cubs by paying Furcal $39 million for three years, but it looked like money well spent when Furcal was the club's best offensive player in 2006 and helped lead the team to the playoffs.

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Furcal's importance was even more evident last year, when he collided with Jason Repko chasing a soft fly and suffered a bad left ankle sprain in Spring Training that nagged him the entire season. Furcal now admits his weak ankle was a particular handicap while batting left-handed and running the bases.

"I couldn't stand on the ankle and any quick move bothered me, but I didn't want to say anything," he said.

Furcal, 30, followed a month of rest with a winter ball season in the Dominican Republic that signaled he's fully healthy. He hit .361 with three stolen bases in eight regular-season games and .400 with one steal in six Caribbean Series games. He said he's healthier than he's been the past two springs, when he was also plagued by a sore throwing shoulder.

Furcal believes that a return to health for him and pitcher Jason Schmidt, plus the additions of manager Joe Torre and good friend and former Atlanta teammate Andruw Jones has the Dodgers primed for October.

"That's my man right here," said Furcal, who lockers next to Jones. "He's a good pickup for us. This is a big year for us. He wants to win and I tell him that if we're healthy and with his big bat, I think we can make it. Torre, he's a winner. He comes here for one thing. He knows how to manage."

Torre again said he has not thought about the lineup, but gave no indication that Furcal wouldn't bat leadoff.

"He can handle that role with no issues," he said. "He has some power to go with the other stuff. That's intimidating for the opposing manager. You can't take him for granted if you're a pitcher or you're liable to be down 1-0. He has the ability to do that. Those kinds of guys apply pressure to the opposition."

Two of a kind, sort of: Sandy Koufax, once a wild, hard-throwing left-hander signed to a significant bonus, spent part of Tuesday working with Greg Miller, a wild, hard-throwing left-hander signed to a significant bonus.

It was Koufax's third consecutive day at Dodgertown. He worked last spring with Miller, who suffered through a frustrating 2007 season that included a demotion from Triple-A to Double-A. Among other tips, Koufax had Miller move to the first-base side of the rubber.

"He did a really good job of keeping it simple," Miller said. "Just having him here is a calming presence."

Other bullpens: While Koufax's work with Miller drew the attention of Torre, among others, of greater importance were the bullpen sessions for Jason Schmidt and Yhency Brazoban, both recovering from shoulder operations and both sounding extremely pleased with their progress. They will continue to take an extra day of rest between throwing sessions, but appear to be ahead of some pitchers that are not recovering from shoulder operations.

Meanwhile, the group that had bullpen sessions Tuesday -- including Brad Penny, Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley and Esteban Loaiza -- is scheduled to begin throwing batting practice on Friday.

Penny likes Bowa: Penny, having won a World Series playing for a fiery manager in Jack McKeon, said he welcomes the intensity new third-base coach Larry Bowa brings.

"I think one of the things missing last year was an enforcer," said Penny. "If you made a mistake, including me, it was always a pat on the butt, it's all right. This year it will be a whole different story. It's not all right to make the same mistakes.

"People say he's too emotional, but he just wants to win. I saw it when he managed Philadelphia and I was in Florida. You can see how passionate he is about it. He wants you to do things the right way. As much money as we make at this level, we should do it right."

Both camps open: Torre will hold his first full-squad meeting and workout on Wednesday. The Dodgers also will open their early Minor League camp, having issued invitations to 32 of their top young players not yet on the 40-man roster.

The most celebrated of the group is 19-year-old left-hander Clayton Kershaw, the top-rated player in the organization according to Baseball America. Although Kershaw was not invited to Major League camp, Torre said he'll be visiting before the spring is over.

"We'll see him," Torre said. "We'll take a peek at a bullpen or get him in a game. He'll get exposure."

Here are the Minor Leaguers that will report early: pitchers James Adkins, Brian Akin, Marlon Arias, Robert Booth, Jesus Castillo, Javy Guerra, Kershaw, Jacobo Meque, Miguel Pinango, Tim Sexton, Eduardo Sierra, Kyle Smit, Josh Wall and Cody White; catchers Alex Garabedian, Kenley Jansen, Jesse Mier, Carlos Santana and Matt Wallach; infielders Josh Bell, Ivan DeJesus, Blake Dewitt, Kevin Howard, Chris Jacobs, Francisco Lizarraga, Preston Mattingly and Russ Mitchell; outfielders Jaime Hoffman, Andrew Lambo, Exavier Logan, Anthony Raglani and Trayvon Robinson.

Among those not on the list is pitcher Scott Elbert, a 22-year-old former first-round pick who missed most of last year after needing shoulder surgery.

No Simon: Non-roster pitcher Alfredo Simon remains stuck in the Dominican Republic with visa problems. All other players are expected to be in uniform on Wednesday.

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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