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Furcal weeks away from return to play

Furcal weeks away from returning

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SAN DIEGO -- A disappointed Rafael Furcal had his return date pushed back again by doctors and is expected to be out another three weeks with lingering lower back pain.

News on Nomar Garciaparra and Andruw Jones, however, was better.

Garciaparra has missed 41 games with a complicated condition that leads to calf muscle strains. But he's stepped up his workouts without a setback and manager Joe Torre said he might start a Minor League rehab assignment within the next week.

Jones, two weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery and ahead of schedule, took early batting practice and shagged fly balls with the club at PETCO Park.

Furcal, the shortstop and leadoff hitter, missed his 32nd game Tuesday night, when the Dodgers opened a three-game series against the Padres. He said back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins told him another two weeks of core strengthening would be needed before he'd be cleared to begin a Minor League rehabilitation assignment, which Furcal estimated would last one week.

"I'm disappointed a little bit," said Furcal, who missed the last 12 games of the 2007 season with similar lower back pain, and said he worked particularly hard during the offseason to prevent a recurrence. "I want to play. But I don't want to go out on the field and not be 100 percent."

Furcal learned last year, while trying to play through an ankle sprain that never healed, that such an injury left him a shell of his normal self. The back presents additional problems, because if he tries to return to game action before the surrounding muscles are sufficiently strong, the area will be susceptible to relapses that are accompanied by debilitating muscle spasms.

"The problem is, I feel good one day, the next day stiff," he said. "I can go today, but I don't want it to come back. I want it to be 100 percent healthy."

Torre said he was told Watkins determined that Furcal is not ready to play in a game.

"The doctor doesn't feel Raffy is as good as Raffy feels he is," said Torre. "The doctor says he has to get a little stronger. He's not ready to play a game."

Torre said he doesn't expect Furcal back until next month and said there is so much uncertainty with the return of the shortstop, that "until he tests it in a game, I don't get excited about it."

Torre said he told Garciaparra to focus on playing shortstop, especially with Furcal's uncertain status. The Dodgers recently acquired Angel Berroa to take over shortstop for rookie Chin-lung Hu, but a healthy Garciaparra would be preferred.

"If he's healthy, he could certainly be a benefit for us," said Torre. "He feels he can. That's good enough for me."

Garciaparra came to the Dodgers as a first baseman and was moved to third base halfway through the 2007 season. He was competing with Andy LaRoche for the starting third-base job in Spring Training, suffered a broken hand when hit by a pitch, was activated in mid-April and injured his calf 10 days later.

Jones looked ahead of schedule in his workout Tuesday.

"He was good today," said Torre. "He seems to be very comfortable. He seems to be putting more weight on the knee.

Meanwhile, Jason Schmidt seems to have hit another speed bump in his comeback. Torre said there is no timetable for the pitcher to resume his Minor League rehab assignment after he experienced discomfort in his surgically repaired shoulder.

"We're in no rush to get the clock started," Torre said. "We can't push the envelope."

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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