- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal met with team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache and hand specialist Dr. Steve Shin on Tuesday after breaking his left thumb on a headfirst slide into third base during Monday night's game against the San Francisco Giants. They determined Furcal doesn't need surgery to repair the bone, but that as expected, he is likely to miss four to six weeks, including minor league rehabilitation time.
That puts Furcal on track to return by the final week of May at the latest. But the injury could have more profound implications. Considering the way Furcal's contract is structured, this could greatly increase the chance Furcal is playing his final year with the Dodgers.
Furcal is in the final season of a three-year, $30 million contract, but that deal includes a $12 million club option for 2012 that vests if Furcal has 600 plate appearances this season. But simple math would suggest that if Furcal misses four to six weeks, it is virtually impossible for him to get to 600 appearance.
Furthermore, given his history of injuries -- this is his fifth stint on the disabled list in his six seasons with the Dodgers -- it would seem unlikely that the club will pick up the option if it doesn't vest, especially with highly touted shortstop prospect Dee Gordon now at Triple-A and on track to be ready for the majors in a year.
"This doesn't mean this is [Furcal's] last year here," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "We will see how the year goes."
Meanwhile, other than officially placing Furcal on the 15-day disabled list and recalling infielder Ivan DeJesus Jr. from Triple-A Albuquerque to take his roster spot, Colletti said he feels no need to look outside the organization to make up the loss of Furcal. Colletti went on to say that while he did look into the availability of free-agent infielder David Eckstein a few weeks ago, he doesn't feel the need to do so again now.
"We have versatility," said Colletti, who specifically cited veteran infielders Jamey Carroll and Juan Uribe and the rookie DeJesus as players who can play second, third and short. It was Carroll who replaced Furcal at shortstop on Tuesday night against the Giants, batting second, with left fielder Tony Gwynn Jr. taking over Furcal's leadoff spot in the batting order. But Gwynn doesn't play every day, so manager Don Mattingly said there could be a different player batting there on a nightly basis.
"I think Jamey will usually be the guy [at short]," Mattingly said. "I feel like Jamey ... gives us our best defense. Juan can probably play some short. It'll mostly be those two guys. ... I can use Jamey Carroll [to lead off], and we can use [utility infielder Aaron] Miles if we want to. I like [Tony] Gwynn leading off as long as he can get on base, but we're going to have to use [outfielder Xavier Paul] some because we can't let him just sit here. X can lead off. He runs good, and he can give us a little thump up top."
Mattingly even mentioned the freeswinging Uribe -- who has on-base percentages of .299 for his career and .182 for this season -- as a possible leadoff man against left-handed pitchers because the lefty-hitting Gwynn and Paul rarely start against left-handers.
Mattingly also said the lineup should stabilize somewhat when third baseman Casey Blake returns. Blake was out of the lineup for the third consecutive game after a game-ending collision with San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley on Saturday night -- a play on which Headley was called for interference for the final out of the game -- left Blake with pain in his left thigh.
Blake said he was feeling better on Tuesday and could do everything except run. Mattingly said Blake was available to pinch hit and to go in as a late-inning defensive replacement and that he could return to the lineup as soon as Wednesday.
DeJesus was optioned to Albuquerque last Tuesday night to clear a roster spot for Blake, who began the season on the 15-day DL with a lower-thoracic injury. At the time, DeJesus was hitless in seven at-bats with five strikeouts, and he is viewed as an important-enough prospect that club officials don't want him sitting around in the majors when he could be getting regular at-bats in the minors.
Because DeJesus is mostly limited to second base -- he never played third until last year's Arizona Fall League, and Mattingly said he was an option at short only in an emergency -- he doesn't figure to get many starts. Colletti said that isn't a concern for now.
"Again, situations are always fluid," Colletti said. "If we can't give him enough at-bats and we think we're slowing his progress, we will have to figure something else out. Right now, he hasn't missed much time, so we're OK with it."
As for Furcal, he is expected to spend the next three weeks wearing a splint to immobilize his thumb before beginning any baseball activity.
Mattingly downplayed Furcal's comment Monday night that he was considering retirement, shrugging it off as exactly what it seemed to be when Furcal made it, an expression of frustration.
Meanwhile, Mattingly conceded the injury was a major blow to his club despite the fact Furcal was off to a slow start, hitting just .192 with a .250 OBP.
"It's not a shot you want to take, really," he said. "But it's one of those things you deal with. I would rather have it happen now than happen later. I talked to him today, and he is kind of down right now, and frustrated. He feels like he let the team down because he got hurt, but it isn't his fault he got hurt. It's a blow."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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