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Dodgers drop opener in Taiwan

Dodgers drop opener in Taiwan

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TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Although Joe Torre conceded that the goodwill series the Dodgers play this weekend against a Taiwanese All-Star team is a "semi-vacation for the guys," some of the guys are trying to win jobs.

No, not that Manny Ramirez guy. Ramirez went 0-for-3 as the designated hitter Friday night, the role he'll fill for all three games here. Torre said an unfamiliar playing field was no place for Ramirez to make his defensive debut of the spring, so that will come when the club returns to Arizona next week.

But this is no vacation for Eric Stults, it's serious stuff. Of all the players on this trip, he probably has the most on the line. Out of options, he's trying to win the fifth starter job. He didn't hurt his chances with four strikeouts in three hitless innings.

"For me, it's all about strike one and getting ahead in the count and I did that," said Stults. "I got my pitch count extended. I'm happy with it."

It was in a similar start on a trip to China two springs ago that Chan Ho Park put himself on Torre's radar, although Park was pitching against a Major League team, the San Diego Padres.

"I was happy with the way Stults pitched," said Torre. "To me, it's more about him doing what he has to do. He was aggressive, with one bad at-bat, getting ahead 0-2 and walking the guy. But he mixed pitches well and located well. He has the stuff. Now he has to maintain a confident approach."

Offensively, the Dodgers didn't hit out of order, but they didn't hit much in order either as they lost to the Taiwan All-Stars, 5-2, avoiding a shutout only with a two-run single by local hero Chin-lung Hu in the eighth inning. Six Taiwanese pitchers held the Dodgers to only three hits.

Hu, up at 6:30 a.m. for a full schedule of appearances the day after a 15-hour flight, suggested that his club had reason to be ragged.

"The team was kind of tired. I feel it," Hu said.

Torre went a different direction.

"We had the bases loaded twice and we hit some balls and they made good plays," he said. "Their outfielders were playing us deep. Travel is part of what we have to do. No excuses, they beat us, I hope we get even tomorrow."

Torre said he will watch carefully when Josh Towers starts Saturday. Towers, a former 13-game winner in the Major Leagues, in camp on a Minor League contract, is now on the radar with an extra relief spot available for as long as Ronald Belisario is unavailable with visa problems.

On Sunday, Hong-Chih Kuo gets the start in his homeland, even though he'll pitch only one inning. Kuo has requested 75 tickets for each of the games.

Hu said it was an honor to return home as a Major Leaguer.

"It's pretty special. A great experience for me," he said. "I've never gone home in March in eight years and this is the first time I've played here in the Major Leagues in my home with my countrymen."

Torre started Major Leaguers James Loney (1-for-3 with a walk) at first base and Ron Belliard at second. Although Hu started at shortstop, he moved to second in the sixth inning so Torre could take a look at Jamey Carroll at shortstop. Carroll is primarily a second baseman, but the Dodgers need somebody to back up Rafael Furcal at short. Carrol might start there Saturday.

The Dodgers, having already lost starting catcher Russell Martin for at least a month with a pulled groin muscle, narrowly escaped further erosion in depth at the position when Lucas May was hit with a pitch on his left knee and was removed. But May was walking fine afterward and said he was OK.

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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