"I've never had so many regulars show up early in my life," manager Joe Torre said again. "Last year I noticed a big difference from the year before. This year it's a very confident group, but I reminded them not to take anything for granted."
The last message is a reminder that, for the success the young core has enjoyed, there still is that big hurdle in Philadelphia to overcome.
Manny Ramirez, who has been working out all week, drew the largest and loudest group of fans when he came anywhere near the ropes. But unlike last spring -- when Ramirez didn't sign until March and spent most of camp nursing sore legs -- he participated in all drills on Friday, including base running and defense.
The only players that missed the workout were second-year reliever Ronald Belisario, still delayed by visa problems in his native Venezuela, and veteran reliever Jeff Weaver, excused for the birth of his first child.
Weaver is expected back in camp on Saturday. There still was nothing definite on Belisario's status.
"He's late. It's a concern," Torre said.
Torre confirmed that the swingman job is Weaver's to lose this spring, a stark contrast from last spring, when Weaver was trying to revive his career after a season in the Minor Leagues.
"We know what he did last year. He was very valuable," Torre said of the 33-year-old Weaver, who went 6-4 with a 3.35 ERA. "We left him off the Championship Series roster because of [Phillies] lefties, but he took the ball as a starter and he really helped our young bullpen do the job they did. He's highly thought of for me. He's not just an add-on as far as I'm concerned."
Torre watched starter Clayton Kershaw throw live batting practice. Torre hasn't announced his Opening Day starter, but signs already are pointing toward Kershaw, who doesn't turn 22 until next month.
Torre repeated earlier comments by pitching coach Rick Honeycutt that the reins will be loosened on Kershaw from the 100-pitch limit that was imposed last year.
"A big part of it is the number of pitches he throws in an inning," Torre said. "We'll pay more attention to that than the total pitches. That wears you out."
Among the other pitchers that threw live batting practice was former Cy Young closer Eric Gagne, who is trying to keep his career alive. Gagne has been working on his mechanics and looked like he still had much work to do.
Although the Dodgers are relatively healthy and set at most positions, the clear unknowns are fifth starter and starting second baseman.
The candidates for fifth starter are Eric Stults, Scott Elbert, James McDonald, Charlie Haeger, Russ Ortiz, Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Monasterios.
Stults (who gets the first start for the group March 6) and Haeger are out of options and could be lost if they don't make the club. Monasterios is in a similar situation as a Rule 5 Draft pick.
The three candidates for second base are Ronnie Belliard, Jamey Carroll and Blake DeWitt. For what it was worth on Friday, DeWitt was paired in the work group with starting shortstop Rafael Furcal.
Furcal, who struggled offensively last year on the comeback trail from back surgery, predicts improvement in 2010.
"Last year I [felt] a little uncomfortable, not really feeling good," Furcal said. "My back did not really bother me, but sometimes I got a little tired. My legs were not that strong. But I [took] almost 700 at-bats and [didn't] miss any games with my back and that's good. This year I'll work out a lot and I'm in good shape."
Furcal said he reported six pounds lighter than last year.
Friday's workout started with third-base coach Larry Bowa's annual dissertation on base running.
"Bowa's terrific on the whole base-running thing," said Torre. "It stirs memories when you were a player. I have not played for 30 years, but you get out there and things come back to you."
Torre is in for a long day on Saturday. After practice ends in the early afternoon, he will fly to Los Angeles to share the Nokia Theater stage with Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax and Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers for a 7:30 p.m. PT event benefitting Torre's "Safe at Home" Foundation. After the event, Torre and Koufax will fly back to Phoenix.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less