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LaRoche a likely infield option

LaRoche a likely infield option

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers' trade for shortstop Angel Berroa, and subsequent move to designate corner infielder Terry Tiffee for assignment, leaves the team thin at the corner infield spots and heavy up the middle.

For now, Dodgers manager Joe Torre wants to figure out what the team has in Berroa, but he said Triple-A Las Vegas third baseman Andy LaRoche would "probably" be in Los Angeles "somewhere down the road" to solve that problem.

"It depends on our needs," Torre said, in regards to when a move might be made. "I think we could probably go get him any time, let's put it that way.

"He could be called up [Monday] as far as his readiness. But as far as our needs, I think we still have to see what we have in Berroa, get a feel for what we're going to have with [injured shortstop Rafael] Furcal this week in San Diego, and then we're going to make some decisions."

LaRoche was hit by a pitch in the hand Saturday and left the game after two innings, but that's not an issue because he returned to the lineup and went 2-for-3 on Sunday.

Torre said his club is covered at third base behind starter Blake DeWitt for now because middle infielder Luis Maza could play there, and Berroa might be able to as well in a pinch.

During Spring Training, LaRoche was in the running for the starting third base job with Nomar Garciaparra, who's also injured now, before tearing the ulnar collateral ligament of his right thumb, an injury that takes about two months of recovery time. Now, he's moving around the infield at Triple-A, spending time at second and first, where he could become a backup to Dodgers starter James Loney.

Torre said LaRoche has had some "comfort issues" with soft tosses to the pitcher covering first base, being that he's used to picking up the ball and chucking it from third, but the organization has been impressed with how LaRoche has taken to moving around the infield for the good of the organization.

"That's the most important thing," Torre said. "He doesn't feel like we're making him do something that he's not comfortable with. He knows this is probably a quicker ticket to the big leagues.

"A lot of players are so consumed with their own needs that you don't realize when somebody else has to make decisions you've got to open the field up, try to give yourself as many variables as you can."

A likely candidate to be sent down for LaRoche would be Chin-lung Hu, who has started at shortstop in Furcal's absence, but would move down to third string when Furcal returns not that Berroa is on the roster. Hu has struggled at the plate, going 2-for-34 (.059) in his last 13 games entering Sunday, which has dropped his average from .205 to .159.

"I don't think there's any question, long-term, we're looking for him to get at-bats at a level that he can certainly be a little more relaxed in," Torre said.

Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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