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DODGERS NOTEBOOK: DODGERS TO START SEASON MINUS HUNDLEY.

Byline: Rich Hammond Staff Writer

VERO BEACH, Fla. - Todd Hundley, due to make $6.5 million this year, will not start the season with the Dodgers because of lingering back problems, and the team doesn't know when to expect his return.

Hundley, who had a second back surgery Nov. 25, has not made much progress since then, and even if he is pronounced completely healthy in the next couple of weeks, Hundley wouldn't have time to prepare for the start of the season. The Dodgers had hoped Hundley would participate in part of spring training.

``That's not going to happen,'' manager Jim Tracy said. ``That's just the reality of the situation.''

Tracy said Hundley was examined by Dr. Robert Watkins in Arizona on Monday and showed some signs of recovery, but is still experiencing pain and will require a series of cortisone shots next week. After the final injection, one week of rest will be needed to determine Hundley's prognosis.

Hundley is entering the final year of a disastrous four-year, $23.5-million contract he signed with the Chicago Cubs, and has played only 192 games over the past three seasons. Hundley had just 33 at-bats for the Dodgers last season because of back surgery, but still made $6 million.

--Ready or not: When the Dodgers traded for Juan Encarnacion in December, one of the things they touted was his ability to play all three outfield positions, but he doesn't seem so sure about that.

Encarnacion has played 342 games in right field, 305 in center and 126 in left, but when asked if, given the Dodgers' unsteady outfield situation, he would be comfortable playing any of the three positions, Encarnacion sounded less than confident.

``You're more comfortable with where you've been playing and what you're used to,'' Encarnacion said. ``I feel better in right field.''

``It's not my decision,'' Encarnacion said. ``I'll try to be helpful to the team no matter what.''

If the Dodgers trade for a first baseman, or decide not to move Shawn Green there, they would have to decide whether to move Encarnacion or Green, both natural right fielders. Encarnacion played all of his 155 games in right field for the Florida Marlins last season and did not make an error.

--No showdown: In promoting today's exhibition opener against the New York Mets, ESPN has been featuring Guillermo Mota and Mike Piazza because of their brawling incident last spring.

There won't be a rematch today, because Mota won't be pitching. Hideo Nomo will start and pitch two innings, followed by Jose Lima for two innings and one inning each from Rick White, Masao Kida, Eric Knott, Agustin Montero and Yhencey Brazoban. Aaron Heilman will start for the Mets.

The game will, however, feature the spring debut of Green playing first base. Tracy said Tuesday afternoon that he hadn't yet decided who would start in left field this morning.

Nomo won't be able to face countryman Kazuo Matsui, who injured his finger Sunday.

--Canseco's out: The Dodgers actually gave Jose Canseco the courtesy of a phone call Tuesday morning to tell him they weren't interested in signing him.

Canseco attended Monday's open tryout and hit one batting-practice home run in 18 swings but showed little else. The camp was worth it for Gooby Gerlitz and Adam Shorts, who were signed to minor-league contracts. Shorts hit a home run in Monday's tryout game, one pitch after Canseco struck out.

--Status report: Darren Dreifort is scheduled to throw batting practice today, and Mota, who arrived late to camp, should start throwing batting practice by the end of this week. ... Tracy said second baseman Alex Cora, recovering from a broken right arm, will begin swinging a bat next week.

Rich Hammond, (818) 713-3611

rich.hammond(at)dailynews.com
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 3, 2004
Words:628
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