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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.

Jason Schmidt Schmidt

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."