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No word on return but Schmidt rehab going well

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti
delivered an encouraging report Wednesday on pitcher Jason Schmidt,
limited to six starts last year before undergoing season-ending
shoulder surgery.

"If he continues to progress, there's a great chance he'll be
ready to go [when next season begins]," Colletti said during a
workout for Los Angeles prospects at Dodger Stadium. "We've had
nothing to discourage us. He's been throwing for a while now. He'll
continue to build his arm strength.

"Everything's where it's supposed to be right now after what
he's gone through."

Dodgers trainer Stan Conte plans to visit Schmidt at the
pitcher's home in Scottsdale, Ariz., during the first week of
February -- shortly before pitchers and catchers report to spring
training.

"I want to make his transition from rehab into spring training
as smooth as possible," Conte said.

Schmidt has traveled to Los Angeles during the offseason, and
Conte said he's been in contact with physical therapist Brett
Fischer, who is handling the rehab for the 34-year-old
right-hander.

Conte expressed cautious optimism but wouldn't look too far
ahead.

"Where he is right now is a great place," Conte said. "There
have not been any setbacks at this point. He's thrown off the
mound, starting last week. We like where he is right now."

When asked what would be next, Conte replied: "Higher
intensity."

"We're doing OK today. We've got a significant amount to do
yet," Conte said.

While Conte said he hopes Schmidt will be ready to go when the
season starts, the trainer added: "We're not getting into that,
we're not setting any dates at all."

Conte said Schmidt has been throwing on flat ground several
times a week for some time. Since starting to throw off a mound,
Schmidt has thrown some 10 or 15 pitches per session, and without
much velocity.

"Jason knows what's at stake here," Conte said. "We want him
to get better every day."

Schmidt, who signed a three-year, $47 million contract with the
Dodgers last winter, was 1-4 with a 6.31 ERA before undergoing
surgery June 20 to repair an inflamed bursa, a torn labrum and a
frayed biceps tendon in his right shoulder.

Colletti also said veteran Nomar Garciaparra and young
Andy LaRoche will enter spring training on even terms in competition for
the starting third base job.

"I think Andy and Nomar are two good options at third base,"
Colletti said. "We're going to let them figure it out. I think
it's unfair to either player to have a preconceived notion as to
how it's going to turn out. I think it's a situation that ought to
be debated on the field."

The 34-year-old Garciaparra began last season as the Dodgers'
first baseman, but was moved to third with the emergence of
James Loney. Garciaparra played in 121 games and hit .283 with seven
homers and 59 RBIs.

The 24-year-old LaRoche made his big league debut last year,
playing in 35 games for the Dodgers and hitting .226 with one homer
and 10 RBIs.

Colletti said it's likely that LaRoche will make the team even
if Garciaparra beats him out at third base.

"He's on the verge of where Loney and [Matt] Kemp were a year
ago, where [Russell] Martin and [Andre] Ethier were two years
ago," Colletti said.

LaRoche has been participating in the winter workouts and spent
time working with new Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly.

"It was great getting to know him. Everything he said sunk
in," LaRoche said. "I think I'm a lot better prepared going into
spring training than I've ever been. I got my cup of coffee last
year a couple times, kind of learned what it was all about."