Dodgers Inside Pitch -- December 23

Dodgers closer Takashi Saito played a role in convincing right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to play for the Dodgers. Kuroda, who spent the last 11 seasons pitching for the Hiroshima Carp in Japan, knew that he wanted to play baseball in the United States. He just didn't know where.

The Kansas City Royals offered him a contract. The Seattle Mariners, who have Kenji Johjima and Ichiro Suzuki, were definitely interested.

What convinced Kuroda to choose the Dodgers had very little to do with any sales pitch that was offered by a current major league player.  

  "This was the place where I could perform the best," Kuroda said through a translator. "Obviously the weather played an important factor, and also the Japanese community. I wanted to go to a place that had an established Japanese community."  

  Kuroda found that in Los Angeles, along with a three-year contract worth $35.3 million.

   The Dodgers will add Kuroda to a list of starting pitchers that already includes Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, Jason Schmidt and Esteban Loaiza. Reading between the lines, the acquisition of Kuroda is a strong indication that either Schmidt or Loaiza won't be ready to start the 2008 season.   

Schmidt is still trying to work his way back from shoulder surgery that abruptly ended his 2007 season. The word is that he is still on target for a spring return and that he has not suffered any setbacks in his rehab.   

Loaiza went 1-4 in five starts after being plucked off the waiver wire late last season.

Kuroda compiled a 103-89 record during his 11 seasons in Japan and was a player the Dodgers were determined to get. They upped their offer to four years, but Kuroda didn't want to go beyond three.

"No matter what team was involved, they all said that I was necessary to their team," Kuroda said. "As a player, you feel very thankful for that. Every team said that they wanted me for their team, and it was an honor. It was a very difficult decision for me."

Kuroda is grateful for the help and advice he received from other Japanese players who are now in the big leagues. However, their help came from their actions and not so much from what they said to him.

  "A lot of players have come over here (the United States) and have done well," Kuroda said. "It's because of them that I am able to come over here, and I am very thankful for all of their accomplishments and all that they have contributed."

Notes and Quotes
--C Gary Bennett, who signed a one-year deal to be the Dodgers' backup catcher, was implicated in the Mitchell Report. Bennett said admitted to taking human growth hormones for a knee injury in 2003 and explained his action to the Dodgers' brass before signing the contract. "It's something that was a mistake," Bennett said. "I made a mistake. If I didn't get a job because of that, I would have nobody to blame but myself. I just wanted to come out and tell them (the Dodgers) the circumstances and go from there."

--C Russell Martin was selected as the winner of the 2007 Tip O'Neil Award, which is presented by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. It's an award that goes to the Canadian player who has excelled in individual achievement and team contribution. "I'm simply overwhelmed," Martin said. "I'd trade this and my other individual awards for a few more wins and a trip to the postseason, but I do play hard and I play with passion, and obviously people appreciate that."

--RHP Brian Falkenborg signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers and was invited to spring training. Falkenborg made 16 relief appearances for the Cardinals last season and went 0-1 with a 4.82 ERA. Falkenborg spent the 2004 season in the Dodgers organization. He was 1-0 with a 7.53 ERA in six games that year after being promoted from Class AAA Las Vegas.

--RHP Mike Koplove has been invited to spring training by the Dodgers in the hopes that he can regain his 2002 form in which he went 6-1 with a 3.36 ERA for the Diamondbacks.

--SS Rafael Furcal sprained his left ankle during spring training and played the majority of the season with the injury, never allowing it to heal properly. Now that he's given the ankle -- and a sore back that sidelined him in September -- adequate rest, he's playing for Aguilas de Cibao in the Dominican winter league.

BY THE NUMB3RS: 14 -- Former Dodgers who were cited in the Mitchell Report.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Kuroda will be in the sixth or seventh inning, sailing along, and he gets into a little trouble. Suddenly he grabs another gear. He has that competitive nature." -- Marty Brown, who managed newly acquired Dodgers RHP Hiroki Kuroda the past two seasons in Japan.

The Dodgers went into the offseason looking for a middle-of-the-order bat and more pitching. They had added both by mid-December. Free agent CF Andruw Jones and RHP Hiroki Kuroda, a coveted Japanese import, both signed with Los Angeles.

   ARRIVALS: OF Andruw Jones (free agent from Braves), RHP Hiroki Kuroda (free agent from Japan), C Gary Bennett (free agent from Cardinals).

DEPARTURE: LHP Randy Wolf (free agent, signed with Padres).   

FREE AGENTS: OF Luis Gonzalez, RHP Roberto Hernandez, INF Shea Hillenbrand, C Mike Lieberthal, INF Ramon Martinez, INF Olmedo Saenz, RHP Rudy Seanez, INF Mark Sweeney, LHP David Wells, LHP Mark Hendrickson (non-tendered). Saenz and Martinez struggled in 2007, which may lead to their departure from Los Angeles. That could lead the Dodgers to retain Sweeney, who is second on the all-time pinch-hit list. The Dodgers declined their option on Lieberthal.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Yhency Brazoban, RHP Scott Proctor, OF Jason Repko. Beimel lost his arbitration hearing last winter but is in a much better position to come out ahead should things go that way this offseason. Beimel appeared in 83 games this year, becoming one of the more reliable components in the bullpen.

IN LIMBO: With Jones and Juan Pierre manning two outfield slots, the team has just one position left for Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. One of them could find himself playing for another team next season.

*M*A*S*H* 4077:
INF Tony Abreu (sports hernia surgery in October 2007) will recover for six to eight weeks before re-engaging in baseball activities.

SS Rafael Furcal (slightly bulging disk in back) missed the final two weeks of the 2007 season but won't need surgery for that or his sprained left ankle. He will be ready for the start of spring training.

RHP Jason Schmidt (shoulder surgery in June 2007) remains on target for a spring return.

OF Jason Repko (left hamstring surgery in March 2007) missed all of the 2007 season. He was sidelined for a week in October in the Arizona Fall League due to a right ankle injury.

LHP Hong-Chih Kuo (left elbow surgery in July 2007) had begun a rehab program before the end of the 2007 season.

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