Lo Duca Expanding His Horizons

Paul Lo Duca, a 2003 All-Star who led the National League in Catcher's Earned Run Average of 2.73 while handling the Dodger pitching staff in 2003 and threw out 41% of the runners attempting to steal on him (4th in the N.L.), may see more action in the outfield and at first base in 2004. <br><br>

If the Dodgers cannot acquire a hitter for the middle of the lineup and Shawn Green moves in from right field to play first base, Lo Duca could shed the mask, protector and shin guards and David Ross would gain more time behind the plate.

Lo Duca streaked into the Dodgers' record book by hitting in 25 consecutive games last season, tying for seventh on the franchise list and deadlocking with Steve Sax in third place on the Los Angeles charts. Starting May 17, with his average at .275, Lo Duca rapped out three singles and a home run to spark a 4-1 win over the Florida Marlins. The Dodgers rolled up eight straight wins and Lo Duca was hitting .583. After 10 games he was still sizzling, hitting an even .500.

He finished with a .422 average over the 25 games. During the 25-game streak, over 33 days and 28 games, the club rolled up a 20-8 record. While he was behind the plate the team was 19-7. He played one game at first base and one in left field during he streak.

Manager Jim Tracy noticed that his average has faded from .314 in the first half to .255 over the last half during his six-year major career with the Dodgers. In 2003 the differential was .307/.226 and he appeared in 55 straight games late in the year.

While the 32-year-old considers himself primarily a catcher, he said as long as he had the opportunity during spring training to work enough at each position to became comfortable with them. it would be fine with him.

The move would also get Ross' potent bat into the lineup. During his brief, 48-game major league career he has slugged 11 homers and knocked in 20 during in only 134 at-bats. Projected over a 500 at-bat season, the numbers become eye-popping: 41 homers and 75 RBI.

His defensive abilities and throwing arm seem to make him a valuable addition to the lineup.