Dodger Inside Pitch - January 8, 2008

No one, not even Nomar Garciaparra himself, seems to have the slightest clue as to why Garciaparra struggled so mightily last season. But the result is that, at age 34, the accomplished veteran's best hope going into spring training is that he will have to fight for the third base job with rookie Andy LaRoche.

The two-time batting champion slumped in 2007 to a still-respectable .283, albeit with just seven home runs and 59 RBIs.

"I wish I could (explain it)," Garciaparra told the Los Angeles Daily News. "(But) sometimes, from year to year, you can't explain it. It's not a lack of effort. Things just change."

They will change even more dramatically now if Garciaparra doesn't turn things around. He is entering the final season of a two-year, $18.5 million contract some observers felt was ill-advised from the start -- a deal he probably wouldn't have gotten if J.D. Drew hadn't unexpectedly exercised the escape clause in his own contract last winter, leaving the club desperate for power in the middle of the lineup.

Garciaparra also will turn 35 at midseason, so this could be his final year playing with his hometown team.

It is worth mentioning that Garciaparra has been a dutiful soldier at every turn during his first two seasons with the club. He moved to first base for the first time in his career in 2006, then moved back to third midway through 2007 to make room for promising rookie James Loney, who will go to camp as the incumbent everyday first baseman.

Mini Camp Held
De Jon Watson, assistant general manager for player development, invited the cream of the farm system crop to Dodger Stadium for the organization's first winter mini-camp. With a week still to go, Watson dubbed it, "a big success."

"There's already been a lot of positive feedback," Watson said. Watson was recently promoted to his new title after being hired as farm director only a year ago.

"This is something I've always wanted to do, something I mentioned during my interview process. I just thought it was a great tool to implement in helping our young players with the transition from the Minor Leagues to the Major Leagues."

Those invited to the first mini-camp includes pitchers Mario Alvarez, Scott Elbert, Clayton Kershaw, James McDonald, Jon Meloan, Greg Miller, Justin Orenduff, Ramon Troncoso and Cory Wade; infielders Josh Bell, Ivan DeJesus Jr., Blake DeWitt, Chin-Lung Hu, Andy LaRoche, Josh Paul; catcher Lucas May and outfielders Delwyn Young and Xavier Paul.

A number of the Dodgers' Major Leaguers have turned out, including coaches Don Mattingly and Rick Honeycutt to players Andruw Jones, Matt Kemp, James Loney and Brad Penny.

Notes and Quotes
--RHP Rudy Seanez, who was a key contributor in middle relief last year, remains a free agent and is still on the Dodgers' radar. He was a bargain last year at $700,000, going 6-3 with a 3.79 ERA in 73 appearances, and the longer he remains on the market, the better the Dodgers' chances of bringing him back at the age of 39.

--Manager Joe Torre has been curiously out of sight and out of mind since his introductory press conference more than two months ago. Torre didn't attend the winter meetings because he was undergoing knee replacement surgery in New York, and he has rarely been quoted or even mentioned in media reports this winter.

--RHP Esteban Loaiza probably will begin the season in the bullpen. Club officials expect RHP Jason Schmidt to be fully recovered from major shoulder surgery in time to fill a role near the back of the rotation, leaving no spot for Loaiza. Loaiza's last major league relief appearances came in 2004 with the Yankees.

--RHP Justin Orenduff, a former supplemental first-round pick, has flown under the radar while pitching prospects such as Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw have gotten most of the attention. But Orenduff was quietly added to the 40-man roster this winter and could find himself in the majors sometime this year as a middle reliever.

--RHP Brad Penny, besides being the staff ace, is quickly becoming one of the club's most visible players in the community. The only player who went out of his way to attend Joe Torre's introductory press conference at Dodger Stadium in November (LHP Hong-Chih Kuo was there working out that day), Penny later made a last-minute request to be added to the roster of players who rode the team's first-ever Rose Parade float. Penny also is a willing contributor to the team's ongoing winter development program, showing up to offer advice to the prospects on hand.

By the Numb3rs: 256 -- Days on the disabled list for OF Jason Repko, accounting for almost half his three years of major league service time. Repko will exchange arbitration figures with the club next week despite having a grand total of 406 at-bats in the majors.

Quotes to Note --"You would like to have a lefty or two in your starting rotation. (That) is something that if we could do it, we would. But that said, you still go with the best (pitchers) you can, no matter which arm they throw with. If they can pitch, it doesn't matter which side the hitter is hitting from." -- Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, whose club is expected to have an all-right-handed rotation of Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley and either Jason Schmidt or Esteban Loaiza.