Notes: Loaiza still in running for rotation

Notes: Loaiza still in running for rotation

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Clayton Kershaw might be the sensation of training camp, but Esteban Loaiza remains the front-runner to be the Dodgers' fifth starter.

He only helped his cause on Sunday with three scoreless innings against a potent Red Sox lineup that included Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, allowing two hits and two walks but striking out four.

"I saw the lineup in the morning and saw they were going with the big guys and there would be no breather," said Loaiza, who has improved steadily this spring after a rocky initial outing when he tried out a new delivery.

He said he quickly abandoned that adjustment and is feeling healthy after an injury-marred 2007.

Although manager Joe Torre conceded that "it's easy to get excited" watching Kershaw pitch, he also said the job is Loaiza's to lose.

"He was really good," Torre said of Loaiza. "They brought Manny and Papi, and he didn't back off any one of them. He's got the experience and gotten better each time out."

Powerful Kemp: After two triples on Saturday, Matt Kemp slugged a three-run homer on Sunday into the wind off Daisuke Matsuzaka, one of only three Dodgers hits in the game.

Kemp is hitting .333 with a .700 slugging percentage and leads the club with eight RBIs. Normally a right fielder, Kemp started in center field as Torre wanted to see if he could handle the position and said he was impressed with the way Kemp cut off a ball in the gap.

"He's learning how to play [there]," said Torre. "What he needs to do is learn his own ability. There are a lot of things he can do and he's a willing participant. He's very passionate about it."

Kemp said he's more confident this spring, in part because of work he's done with hitting coaches Mike Easler and Don Mattingly.

"There's a lot of knowledge there," Kemp said. "I've been with Easler back in Double-A, and he told me then I could hit in the big leagues. Mattingly was one of the best hitters in the game. They both were. That's a pretty good one-two punch."

Injury update: Torre enlisted Andruw Jones to help him speak with injured infielder Tony Abreu, who is sidelined again with recurring soreness around his buttocks, which Torre said is unrelated to last October's sports hernia surgery. Abreu's prolonged absence is a concern because he was expected to provide infield depth and versatility.

"We need to do whatever it takes to get him to be the player he can be," said Torre. "He's frustrated by it. I'm sure there's some emotion involved. We're all frustrated. He has a real high upside."

Closer Takashi Saito is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Monday to test his strained right calf muscle.

Third baseman Nomar Garciaparra, struck on the right wrist with a pitch on Friday, was wearing a compression wrap to reduce swelling, which had moved into his throwing hand. He was able to lob a ball, but expects to be out several more days at least. He still plans to make the China trip. Ramon Martinez started at third base Sunday, and Blake DeWitt is expected to start there on Monday.

Mark Sweeney had his left knee drained of fluid earlier this week. He said he had microfracture surgery on the knee at the end of the 2006 season and had no problem with it last year, but it flared up this week. He hasn't played since Tuesday. He also still plans to make the China trip.

Second baseman Jeff Kent, sidelined with a strained right hamstring, reported improvement. Chin-lung Hu, normally a shortstop, started at second base.

Pitcher James McDonald returned from a week off with a tired arm and allowed two singles in a scoreless inning on Sunday.

Outfielder Jason Repko (tight hamstring) did not play on Sunday.

Up next: Fifth-starter candidates Chan Ho Park and Eric Stults pitch Monday in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., against the Orioles at 10:05 a.m. PT. Ramon Troncoso and Eric Hull are also scheduled to pitch. Back in Vero Beach, Brad Penny is scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game with Rudy Seanez, who is returning from a strained right groin muscle.

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