Infield in flux with LaRoche hurt

Infield in flux with LaRoche hurt

JUPITER, Fla. -- With Andy LaRoche heading back to Los Angeles to have his thumb put back together, the Dodgers were left on Saturday to pick up the pieces from LaRoche's freak accident, which has created an infield problem.

Nomar Garciaparra reported to Dodgertown with a sore and swollen wrist on Saturday after being struck by a pitch on Friday, but the injury is considered minor. Garciaparra is the starting third baseman now that LaRoche will be sidelined eight to 10 weeks after surgery on Monday to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb.

The 34-year-old Garciaparra has not made it through a season without injury since 2003. And because Jeff Kent -- who celebrated his 40th birthday on Friday -- already has a strained hamstring, the Dodgers are concerned about their infield depth.

Initially, general manager Ned Colletti said that he planned to look for depth internally. But that was before he heard that Tony Abreu came up sore after his spring debut on Friday. Abreu is a talented switch-hitter who can play all around the infield, but he hasn't done much playing in the past year because of a lower abdominal injury.

Abreu underwent surgery last October for a sports hernia, but problems persist, and he missed the first nine exhibition games. He was diagnosed on Saturday with tightness in his right buttocks, a situation that manager Joe Torre suggested could simply be from playing in his first game, but Abreu said that he had discomfort all around the groin area and sounded very discouraged about the lingering ailment.

With Abreu's availability unpredictable, among the options the club is considering, according to Torre, is testing shortstop Chin-lung Hu and outfielder Delwyn Young at third base. Hu has the glove and arm to handle the position. Young has the lively switch-hitting bat and has shown dramatic defensive improvement this spring while working at second base, but his reactions will be tested at third.

Both said they were up to the challenge. Hu said that he tried third base five years ago while playing for Taiwan's national team and found that the game sped up considerably compared with when he played shortstop. Young has never played the position in a game.

Third-base prospect Blake DeWitt was added to the travel squad and started Saturday's game against St. Louis. He doubled on the first pitch he saw and earned praise from Torre, who acknowledged that DeWitt would be a long shot to make the club. DeWitt is only 22, a former first-round pick who has split both of the past two seasons between Class A and Double-A.

Torre said that an acquisition is a possibility, but he didn't sound as though the club would be interested in a starter such as Brandon Inge or Joe Crede, who are believed available but would come with sizable salaries.

"We're talking about depth, backup people," said Torre, who spoke with Colletti before heading to Saturday's game. "If you find somebody, you better be confident they are better than what we have here. I'm not saying you don't initiate conversations, but if you make a deal, I'm not sure how sure you'll be that this is the right person."

Ramon Martinez, in camp on a Minor League contract after two seasons as the Dodgers' utility infielder, would seem to be the benchmark to which Torre is referring. Angel Chavez, who has similar skills to Martinez but lacks Major League experience, is hitting .273 and doubled on Saturday.

"He is what he is," Torre said of Martinez, who is hitting only .188 this spring. "He can back up at a number of positions. He has experience. To me that's more of a benefit than a kid."

As for LaRoche, he said his good-byes to teammates in the clubhouse on Saturday morning and talked about having the rug yanked out from under his best Spring Training.

"I guess you can't say it's like somebody died, but it was just a shock," said LaRoche, who was hitting .350. "You don't believe it at first."

LaRoche tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb when catcher Danny Ardoin's pickoff throw glanced off baserunner D'Angelo Jimenez and struck LaRoche.

"I tried to dive for the ball," said LaRoche. "It ricocheted off the runner and hit me when I lost sight of the ball on the other side of him."

An MRI revealed the tear and an avulsion (or chip) fracture, and LaRoche was notified that he needed surgery in a Friday-night phone call several hours after the test.

"I just got hit with a baseball," he said. "It's a freak accident. I've just got to accept it, there's nothing I can do. I'll do my rehab and come back strong. I have to keep my legs and the rest of my body in shape. I've been hit in the hand before. It hurts at first, but after a bit, it's OK. This swelled up and kept throbbing."

LaRoche said that the imprint of the ball's stitching was on the base of his thumb, which will be immobilized for three weeks after the surgery. He plans to return to Vero Beach and rehab with the club.

"You start rehab with video games," he said. "Not a bad rehab. At six weeks you can hit and throw. Gripping the ball is the toughest to do. By eight weeks you're in games."

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