- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal is tentatively scheduled for a minor league rehabilitation assignment next week, probably with Triple-A Albuquerque, before coming off the 15-day disabled list in time for the opener of a three-game series at San Diego on May 14.
Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said Furcal's rehab assignment still depends on him being fully healthy at that time. Conte said Furcal is running without pain in his strained left hamstring, but only at about 80-85 percent intensity, and that he will have to be able to run pain-free at 100 percent before he is sent out.
Furcal could rehab with the Dodgers' high Single-A Inland Empire affiliate, which is based in San Bernardino, which is home against Lake Elsinore on Monday through Wednesday and which wouldn't require Furcal to travel. Left fielder Manny Ramirez, who is sidelined because of a right-calf strain, is rehabbing with the 66ers this week. But Triple-A is the preferred level of rehab for position players so they can face pitching that is more-or-less on a major league level, so Furcal likely will go to Albuquerque.
More specifically, he likely will go to Colorado Springs, where the Isotopes will be playing Tuesday and Wednesday.
The important thing is that it appears Furcal, the Dodgers' leadoff hitter and offensive catalyst, will be ready to come off the DL as soon as he becomes eligible. Furcal was hitting .309 when he injured himself running out a double-play grounder on April 27 at New York.
Torre backs pitchers
Manager Joe Torre re-stated his commitment to pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley after each was knocked around in the early innings in the first two games of the Dodgers' three-game series with Milwaukee.
"You're not going to find somebody to take their place," Torre said. "Success is going to come for these guys, and it's going to come on a regular basis."
Both Kershaw and Billingsley have shown flashes of brilliance this season but neither has been consistent. Kershaw is 1-2 with a 4.99 ERA and has walked 24 batters in 30 2/3 innings. Billingsley is 2-2 with a 5.06 ERA and has given up 37 hits in 32 innings.
Howell to return soon
Torre said bullpen coach Ken Howell, who has been out for more than two weeks after having his right big toe amputated because of complications from diabetes, is expected to rejoin the club sometime on next week's six-game trip to Arizona and San Diego. Howell is at home in Livonia, Mich., where he underwent the procedure. Albuquerque pitching coach Jim Slaton is filling in for Howell with the big-league club.
Highly touted Dodgers outfield prospect Andrew Lambo, who was suspended for 50 games last weekend for violating baseball's Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program after a second positive test for a "drug of abuse," will spend his suspension working out at extended spring training in Glendale, Ariz.
Team re-signs Denker
The Dodgers re-signed former infield prospect Travis Denker on Wednesday and assigned him to Inland Empire. Denker, 24, the club's 21st-round pick in 2003, never made it to the majors with the Dodgers. But after being traded to San Francisco for Mark Sweeney on Aug. 25, 2007, he did play 24 games for the Giants the following season. Since then, Denker has logged time in three organizations: San Diego, which claimed him off waivers from the Giants; Boston, which claimed him off waivers from the Padres; and Seattle, which signed him as a minor league free agent last winter and released him after he hit .176 in seven games for Triple-A Tacoma earlier this season.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.