ESPN Likes the Dodgers Rotation

Tim Kurkjian, senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, is a believer in the 2008 Dodgers rotation. He pointed out in an article that Joe Torre has built his teams on starting pitching and while there is no Sandy Koufax (there was only one), "Torre's eyes twinkle when he says, "Our rotation has a chance to be pretty good."

Torre outlined the rotation for Kurkjian, starting with Brad Penny, the club leader in 2006 and 2007; Derek Lowe ""I love Derek Lowe. With him, it's just 'Give me the ball and leave me out there until you think I'm tired;" Chad Billingsley, "He's special," and Hiroki Kuroda, who made a successful spring debut against the Braves in Orlando.

Torre pointed out that Jason Schmidt may not be ready before June, but he has Hong-Chih Kuo who has nasty stuff when his elbow allows him to pitch. Arizona's Eric Byrnes said, "I hope I never see that guy again." Kuo has thrown very well this spring, but he has a history of elbow injuries. Esteban Loaiza, an established starter and Tanyon Sturtze are also available.

Then there is Chad Billingsley.

He was 12-5 with a 3.31 ERA last year, in only his second major league season. "I've faced him since I was 18 years old," Braves remarkable right fielder Jeff Francoeur Jeff said of Billingsley. "I've said since the first time I faced him that he was going to be a big-time pitcher. And he already is. Have you seen his legs? One of his legs is bigger than both of mine."

One NL West manager told Kurkjian, "Billingsley will be the best pitcher in our division" within two years. And former Giant Mark Sweeney added, "He's like Matt Cain. He's going to get better every year."

Kuroda is the newest addition to the Dodgers' rotation. "I saw him in Japan last year," one scout said. "Like all Japanese pitchers, he can throw his breaking ball for strikes. That's what our pitchers don't do as well over here. Maybe it's because Japanese pitchers throw so much more than our guys do here."

Kuroda "changes speeds very well," Torre said. "He throws one [pitch] at 84 [mph], then up to 88, then 93. And he's a grinder."

Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Kuroda "reminds us of closer Takashi Saito.

"A really good rotation," said catcher Russell Martin in a masterpiece of understatement.

Garvey Displays New Book
ERO BEACH, Fla. -- Steve Garvey, who was honored nostalgic as he talked about all the springs he spent at Dodgertown, and all the hours he logged as a player and a friend, he'll miss this place as much as anyone.

He remembers biking through the complex grounds as a rookie and being called over to Walter O'Malley's bungalow. "He gave me some words of advice and I was in compete awe," Garvey said.

"That is something that players will miss when they switch to the Arizona site."

The former MVP first baseman (1974) also promoted his new book, "My Bat Boy Days: Lessons I Learned From the Boys of Summer."

Garvey said,"This is such a unique place, but such is life. Time marches on. Business changes."

Garvey's father drove the team bus and the young Garvey grew to know Brooklyn legends such as Gil Hodges and Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. Those players knew Dodgertown as home, just as he once did.

Learning From the Best
Greg Miller received a second tutorial from Sandy Koufax two days after giving up five runs without recording an out. Sandy Koufax showed up at Dodgertown on Sunday to work with lefty reliever Greg Miller for the second time this spring. "The youngster seems to be very receptive," Torre said.

Lowe Unimpressed
Derek Lowe pitched two strong innings Sunday against the Mets but was seemingly unimpressed.

"It's hard to analyze two innings," Lowe said. "I'll pitch on Thursday, three more innings, and then after that you can start analyzing your starts a little more."

The Dodgers haven't contacted Lowe about a contract extension, and that's OK with him.

Lowe's four-year, $36-million deal will expire at the end of the season but he said he wouldn't repeat the mistakes of his last season with the Boston Red Sox in 2004.

"I tried too hard every single start to try to prove that I was worth more than they thought. Every bad game, I thought I was costing myself money. Mentally, it was a struggle and, consequently, I had the worst regular season that I've had."

Lowe was 14-12 that season and posted a 5.42 earned-run average, his highest as a starter.

Lowe said he remains about on par with where he was at this time last year, and that's a good thing. He finished last season with 12 wins and a 3.88 ERA.

*M*A*S*H* 4077 Report
Closer Takashi Saito should be ready to pitch again later this week. Saito has been bothered by stiffness in his right quad, though the Dodgers don't consider the injury serious.

Reliever Rudy Seanez suffered a mild groin pull and won't see any action early in the week. He should miss approximately two days of work.

They both played catch and said they felt recovered from their problems.

Second baseman Tony Abreu, who has been out of action with soreness in his groin related to his off-season abdominal surgery, has been strengthening his lower body with weight lifting. He ran Sunday and said he felt better.

A Travelin' Man
Brad Penny returned from a flying trip to Ohio to watch his friend Dan Henderson fall to Anderson Silva in an Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title bout.

Penny experimented with a looser grip on his split-fingered fastball in first start Saturday, "just to take some velocity off of it," he said.

Catcher Russell Martin said that the ball seemed to be coming out of his hand easier. "It looked good," Martin said.

Dodger Idol
Pitcher Rick Asadoorian, who sang Billy Joel's "Piano Man" while playing a guitar and harmonica, was the winner of the second annual "Dodger Idol" competition.

Saito surprised the Dodgers by singing in English when he couldn't speak the language. Among the competitors was Nomar Garciaparra as Ryan Seacrest, Juan Pierre as Randy Jackson (He apologized because he could not say 'dog' in Japanese) and Jeff Kent as Simon Cowell.

Kuroda dressed as Elvis Presley, brought the house down with phony chest hair and sideburns.

"I just want to be one of the guys," he said.

When asked where he got the Elvis costume, Kuroda smiled again and said, "no comment."

McDonald Signs
Righthander James McDonald, seemingly on the hot track, becomes the last player on the 40-man roster to sign. McDonald was Los Angeles' Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season, after posting a 7-2 record with a 1.71 ERA in 10 starts for Double-A Jacksonville and a 6-7 record with a 3.95 ERA for Single-A Inland Empire.

Tony Abreu, outfielder Xavier Paul and pitchers Mario Alvarez, Eric Hull, Jon Meloan, Greg Miller, Justin Orenduff, Ramon Troncoso and Cory Wade signed one-year contracts.

Dodger Blue Notes-- Torre, owner Frank McCourt and general manager Ned Colletti had a meeting Sunday. "It was just catching up," Torre said. "It's the first time I've seen them in the spring." ... Former Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser was eliminated in the Heads-Up National Poker Championship at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He beat three former World Series of Poker winners to reach the quarterfinals.

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