Dodgers Hoping Furcal Starts Tonight

Although the Dodgers won't say it out loud, they are hoping that their 2006 MVP, shortstop Rafael Furcal, will be able to make his 2007 debut tonight when the Dodgers host San Diego.

Furcal has been out of action since spraining his left ankle avoiding a collision with center fielder Jason Repko during a March 22 spring-training game.

He played for Class-A Inland Empire on Tuesday and Wednesday, going 0-for-4 as designated hitter, then playing in the field the second night. Although he didn't get any chances in the field, he left in the second inning when his ankle stiffened, although there was no pain.

"We were a little concerned about that," Dodger trainer Stan Conte said. "Leaving the game was precautionary on his part, but he accomplished everything he needed to. I check for swelling Thursday (the club had an open date), and he didn't really have any."

The Dodgers have received exceptional help from Wilson Valdez at shortstop while Furcal has been on the shelf. Valdez has hit .350+ and has fielded exceptionally well as the club has won six of their first nine but overall the offense has struggled, scoring three runs or less in six of the games.

"I think our entire ballclub has missed him being out there," manager Grady Little said. "We have missed his presence in the dugout, we have missed his defense on the infield, and we have missed what he does for us offensively."

Furcal was not completely healthy for Opening Day last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery a month before spring training -- and after signing a three-year, $39 million free-agent contract -- and hit only .198 in April while committing several errors.

Both Furcal and the club want to avoid rushing him back before he is 100%.

Los Angeles hosts San Diego tonight in the first game of three. The Padres roughed up the Dodgers last season, winning 13 of 19 as the two clubs tied for the National League West Division title.

San Diego will send veteran lefty David Wells to the mound tonight and continue with Jake Peavy and Chris Young. While it is much too early to say the series is crucial, it will be important for both teams.

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