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DODGERS NOTEBOOK: SAITO IN POSITION TO BE SETUP MAN.

Byline: TONY JACKSON Staff Writer

Dodgers manager Grady Little said Saturday that right-hander Takashi Saito, technically a rookie but a veteran of 14 seasons with the Yokohama Baystars of Japan's Central League, is emerging as a strong candidate to fill the still-vacant setup role in the club's bullpen.

Little stopped short, however, of saying the job belonged to Saito.

"He has to do it for a length of time before I put a label like that on him," Little said. "He is working himself into that position.

"It has a good chance to happen because he is so aggressive and throws strikes."

Saito entered Saturday night's game against San Francisco having yet to allow a run in four appearances this season. More importantly, he had retired the first batter faced in three of his four outings and hadn't allowed any of six inherited runners to score.

While going 0-5 collectively, the struggling Dodgers bullpen has been weak overall in both those areas.

Though Saito and interim closer Danys Baez have been airtight, the rest of the bullpen has been horrid. That could have something to do with the fact that, for most of the season, only Baez has had a defined role.

But it probably has more to do with the fact two of the remaining relievers - Tim Hamulack and Hong-Chih Kuo - are rookies, and a third, Franquelis Osoria, entered the season with just four days' major-league service time beyond the limit for rookie status.

The top alternative at Triple-A Las Vegas is Jonathan Broxton, but he has just 14big-league appearances.

--Furcal hurting: Shortstop Rafael Furcal has been playing for the past week and a half with a jammed middle finger on his right hand, an injury he suffered in the season-opening series with Atlanta.

Although it is expected to heal on its own, the finger probably is a contributing factor in Furcal's sluggish start.

Furcal began the day batting just .227, and his on-base percentage (.320) was below the norm for a good leadoff hitter.

"He has been playing through it, so it could be affecting him," general manager Ned Colletti said.

tony.jackson@dailynews.com

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 16, 2006
Words:359
Previous Article:JUNE POWWOW SET FOR COLLEGE.
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