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No timetable set for Furcal's return

No timetable set for Furcal's return

NEW YORK -- The Dodgers apparently have no idea when shortstop Rafael Furcal will return from a lower back injury. Furcal was re-examined by back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins on Friday, and though he was said to be "progressing" in his recovery, there also is "no timetable for his return," according to manager Joe Torre.

Furcal has been on the disabled list since May 6, and the Dodgers are 8-13 since then. They've obviously missed him on offense (he was hitting .366) and, even if less noticeably, just as much on defense. Torre has filled in with rookies Chin-lung Hu and Luis Maza, but it's not easy to replace an impact player such as Furcal.

Furcal still has not resumed baseball activity. Trainer Stan Conte said that Furcal was cleared to start tossing lightly, but that is more a tactic to prevent his temperamental shoulder from locking up than a sign that his back is healed.

Furcal missed the last 12 games of the 2007 season with a similar lower back sprain, which leads to impingements and nerve pain. He is currently going through a methodical trunk-strengthening program designed to stabilize the lower back and prevent such impingements, but there is no indication that he will return to the lineup any time soon.

The Dodgers are aggressively looking for middle infield help, not only to find an upgrade for replacing Furcal but for a player who also has second base skills and thus would allow for more frequent resting of the 40-year-old Jeff Kent.

Kent, who missed two games this week with lower back stiffness of his own, was moved up to third in the batting order on Friday night, with James Loney moving into the cleanup spot.

"I'm just moving things around, trying to get something going, is all it is," said Torre. "You try to protect players the best you can."

In other medical news, Jason Schmidt will make his fourth rehab assignment with Class A Inland Empire on Saturday night. His target pitch count is 60.

The club is awaiting word on Nomar Garciaparra, who underwent additional tests to determine the root cause of his repeated calf muscle problems.

Backup catcher Gary Bennett, who has been at extended spring training in Vero Beach, Fla., working on his throwing problems while healing from a foot problem, will begin a Minor League rehab assignment at Inland Empire.

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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