Dodgers' top free agent signee Schmidt to start Tuesday
PITTSBURGH -- Jason Schmidt, the Dodgers' primary offseason pitching staff addition, will return from a nearly seven-week layoff because of an inflamed right shoulder to start Tuesday night in San Diego.
The Dodgers made the decision to return Schmidt to their rotation after he threw six shutout innings Wednesday for Class-A Inland Empire in a rehabilitation start, then followed that with an impressive bullpen session Saturday in Pittsburgh.
"We really needed to see how that ball was coming out of his hand," manager Grady Little said. "Hopefully, he can continue feeling good. If he's feeling good and ready to go, we feel confident we can put him out there for 90 pitches or so Tuesday. We know he's going to compete, and we'll see what happens."
Little doesn't know if Schmidt's velocity will return immediately -- the right-hander once threw in the mid-90 mph range, but was down from that earlier this season.
"I think it will gradually come back, if he's feeling good," Little said.
However, Little doesn't doubt Schmidt is ready to be a fixture in the front end of the Dodgers rotation immediately.
"He rebounded from his outing the other day, when he threw 71 pitches, and he played catch yesterday [Friday] and felt great again today," Little said. "The ball's coming out good. He's ready and we're certainly ready to see him back out there."
The 34-year-old Schmidt gave up two hits, walked one and struck out seven in his Class-A start Wednesday. Schmidt, who signed a three-year, $47 million contract during the offseason, was 1-2 with a 7.36 ERA in three starts for the Dodgers before being sidelined.
With Schmidt back in the rotation, left-hander Mark Hendrickson returns to the bullpen after going 2-3 with a 4.17 ERA in 11 games, including eight starts. Hendrickson has lost his past three decisions, giving up five runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings of an 11-4 loss to Washington on Thursday -- after the Dodgers had thrown shutouts in their previous two games.
Schmidt's return is the second change in the Dodgers' rotation in a week.
Right-hander Brett Tomko (1-5, 5.66 ERA) was sent to the bullpen on Wednesday and left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo was called up to start Saturday night in Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old Kuo is expected to stay in the rotation for at least three to four starts to give the Dodgers a better idea if he is ready to be a starter in the majors.
With Hendrickson, Tomko and Chad Billingsley now in middle relief, and Jonathan Broxton setting up closer Takashi Saito, Little thinks the Dodgers have the makings of a strong bullpen. Billingsley struck out five of the seven batters he faced Friday while pitching 2 1/3 shutout innings of a 5-4 victory in Pittsburgh.
"He [Hendrickson] is willing to do whatever we need him to do," Little said. "We know the job he did for us in the bullpen at the end of last year and the start of this year, and he'll help us there again. We've got plenty of work for all of them."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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