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Nomar set to make Dodgers debut after rehab stint

LOS ANGELES -- Nomar Garciaparra's long-awaited debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers may come as soon as Saturday.

The team sent the converted first baseman on a two-day minor-league rehab assignment with Triple-A Las Vegas on Wednesday night. The plan is to let Garciaparra play about six innings Thursday night and get at least three at-bats and then play for a longer stretch on Friday. Having already managed Garciaparra in Boston for two seasons, Dodgers manager Grady Little has developed a better read for when the two-time AL batting champion is right and when he isn't.

"He hasn't felt any pain whatsoever, and that's why we're turning him loose," Little said. "If everything goes well, he'll be here in Saturday. If he's physically able to do this, we're ready for him. It's very important to have one of the guys we're banking on being in our regular lineup being back in there."

Garciaparra, who turns 33 in July, strained the rib cage muscle in his right side on April 2 at Anaheim while swinging at a pitch in the Dodgers' final exhibition game. The five-time All-Star spent 15 weeks on the DL last season with an injured left groin after signing a one-year contract with the Chicago Cubs. He finished with nine home runs, 30 RBI and a .283 average.

"I'm excited. I've had three days of batting practice and felt really good, so this is definitely the next step," Garciaparra said before making the trip to Fresno to join the Las Vegas team.

"We're doing it to see how it reacts in a game situation. You obviously can't simulate it, so it's better to go out there and see how it feels before you get activated -- because if it's not ready to go at this level, it doesn't do anybody any good and it hurts the team more than it helps," he said.

This was the seventh time the 11-year veteran has been on the disabled list, and this was the first time he began a season on the DL. So in a sense, Saturday will be Opening Day for him.

"I'm looking forward to going out there, putting the uniform on and playing. So I'm sure I'll have all those feelings that you have on Opening Day -- anxiety, anxiousness, nervousness, everything," he said.

Garciaparra also acknowledged that he still wasn't 100 percent physically, but that was only because of residual soreness.

"I think the last time I was 100 percent might have been when I was 5, but I'm feeling pretty good," Garciaparra said. "I did a lot of things to keep my legs in shape and maintain that, so going out there is not going to be much of a shock."