Dodger Hire Conte to Oversee Training

Striving to strengthen their training program, the Dodgers have hired Stan Conte, who just left the Giants for the newly created position of director of medical services as well as head trainer. Meanwhile, the minor league portion of the program he'll be overseeing, finished its 2006 session on Saturday.

Conte, who resigned from the Giants two weeks ago, will renew his close ties with Dodger general manager Ned Colletti, who was in the San Francisco front office for 11 years before coming to Los Angeles last fall. Stan Johnston, the longtime Dodger trainer, has agreed to stay on to work with Conte, who, it should be noted, is not related to Victor Conte of BALCO notoriety.

The minor leaguers are under the director of physical therapist Dave Rivera and actually have been using the facilities in the major league clubhouse at Dodgertown ever since the big club finished spring training. Those were formerly leased to Health South but that agreement ended this year.

Rivera always has a group to keep busy with for such is the nature of the business that as some finish their rehab and go back to playing, others are injured and arrive. It's almost always pitchers and it's almost always arm injuries.

Of the current contingent, the best known would be righthander Justin Orenduff, who was pitching well at Jacksonville before his shoulder injury. He had seemed on track for a possible September callup before it happened . Shoulder problems are usually the more serious and hardest to come back from but in his case it wasn't as severe, involving cleaning out some tendons in his biceps area

. He's back to doing long toss and hopefully will return to action in the spring .And, now that the time a player can stay exempt from the Rule 5 draft has been extended by a year, it won't be necessary for the Dodgers to protect him on the 40-man roster.

Righthander Jose "Jumbo" Diaz, he of the fabled fast ball and poundage, has had a second surgery on his elbow. He came back from Tommy John surgery this summer but his velocity had dropped from 99 mph to the low 90's. It was discovered he had a stress fracture in his elbow so that was corrected. He's doing fine and also should be ready to go in the spring. And, by the way, he's been on a diet and is dropping weight from the 290 he was carrying around before.

Another who's had to have additional work is righthander Jimmy Gilbert. He was signed as a draft-and-follow in 2005 even though he came into the organization already injured and needed immediate Tommy John surgery. They didn't want to lose the rights to him since he'd been clocked at 98 mph during that spring and when he finally got back to the mound was hitting 95 on the gun in bullpen sessions.

However, as Rivera notes, "He'd throw well one day, then have pain the next." He did debut with the Gulf Coast team but it was short for after two-thirds of an inning he was forced to retire. Now, they've cleaned out the back of his elbow and he seems to be progressing well. He, too, is listed as a spring hopeful.

Righthander Bryan Morris, the club's second first round draft pick in June (after Clayton Kershaw) got through the summer and was named the top prospect in the Pioneer League by the managers there in the annual Baseball America poll. He had troubles, though, and was shut down before the Instructional League. Tommy John surgery ensued so he's just now starting on his rehab. It will take all summer so he won't pitch until, maybe, the Instructional doings in 2007.

It's mostly pitchers who are in the program, obviously, but not entirely. Outfielder Matt Berezay, another June draftee who played at Ogden, has his shoulder operated on but, fortunately, not his throwing arm so he's already in a strengthening program and may be ready in the spring also.

Another outfielder, Adam Godwin, a speedster who tied for the organizational lead in stolen bases, had a sports hernia which differed slightly from the norm. This one involves a tear of the abdominal muscles from the bone. There's a specialist in Philadelphia who repairs such an injury He did so for Lucas May last year and he did the work on Berezay as well Matt's still another who should be back on the field in the spring.

Catcher Tony Harper missed all of 2005 after elbow surgery and came back in 2006, playing for Columbus, but really never did feel right all season. He had been slated for the Hawaii Winter League, but, instead, had bone spurs removed. He, too, is set for spring delivery

Righthander Chris Malone had to be shut down in mid-season at Vero Beach, then was another under the knife for the Tommy John procedure. He won't start throwing again for at least another month and may be ready for action by the end of next season.

Also, there's lefthander Matt Merricks, his teammate at Vero Beach who had rotator cuff surgery, the diciest of all. He's now a free agent though so might not be back at all.

Nor probably will lefthander Derek Thompson, who had made it all the way to the big club, only to have an operation. Apparently beset by personal problems, he abruptly deserted the program in the summer and won't even take phone calls from the club. First placed on the suspended list, he, too, has been declared a free agent with his future as a Dodger very much in doubt.

Though the others are going home now, it's not to hang out at the local mall. Rivera has given each a program to work on at home so they'll continue to progress. The current plan is for them to gather again, probably in mid-January. By then Conte will possibly have tweaked the program although he notes the record is good so he's not on hand to plug a leaky boat.

So, next year, Rivera will get the more advanced ready to go back on the field. And, no doubt, have some more patients to work with.

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