Rafael Furcal could play 2B upon return

LOS ANGELES -- With injured Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal on the verge of beginning a minor league rehabilitation assignment possibly as early as Sunday, club officials are mulling a move to second base for the veteran so the Dodgers can keep talented rookie Dee Gordon in the every-day lineup, manager Don Mattingly said Friday.

"We have talked about that," Mattingly said. "If I'm right, when Raffy played winter ball, he played a little second base. We were just talking about it, different scenarios for when he comes back."

Mattingly said he and general manager Ned Colletti had discussed it, but that the idea hadn't yet been presented to Furcal, who has been on the 15-day disabled list since June 4 with a strained left oblique. When reporters approached him during batting practice, Furcal initially seemed taken aback by the suggestion, but he said he would make the switch if Mattingly were to ask him to.

"For me, it could be a little bit tough," he said. "I haven't played second the last three years in the Dominican (Winter League). But if I have to do it to help the team win, I will do it."

Furcal played 31 games at second as a rookie for the Atlanta Braves in 2000, then four more in 2001. Since then, his only appearance there in a major league game was a two-inning stint for the Braves in 2004.

Colletti said he didn't want to comment on the matter until more conversations had taken place between him, Mattingly and Furcal.

Moving Furcal would allow the Dodgers to keep Gordon's speed and energy in the lineup. The alternative would be to send Gordon back to the minors, which would be tough to do because Gordon has performed well since being promoted from Triple-A Albuquerque on June 6. He entered the opener of a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels having gone 1-for-13 in his previous four games, dropping his average to .268, but he was hitting .326 before that and has enough weapons to make him an asset in the lineup even when he is struggling offensively.

"He is like me my first two or three years," Furcal said. "I like the way he plays. He tries to put the ball on the ground and use his speed, he bunts, he plays good defense. He is doing good things for us."

But moving Furcal to second also might help keep him healthy. He presently is on the DL for the fourth time in the past two seasons, and second base isn't nearly as demanding as shortstop because there isn't as much ground to cover.

Mattingly wouldn't speculate on where Gordon and Furcal might bat in the order when Furcal returns. Furcal traditionally bats leadoff for the Dodgers, but Gordon has hit there in all 13 of the games he has started for the Dodgers since his call-up.

"I don't know," Mattingly said. "We're just trying to get (Furcal) back right now."

Although there is no target date for Furcal to begin his rehab assignment, it could be imminent if he continues to take batting practice and ground balls without discomfort.

"Best-case scenario is probably Sunday at (advanced Class A) Rancho (Cucamonga)," Dodgers medical-services director Stan Conte said. "That way, he can (initially play as a designated hitter) and everything."

Furcal struggled in his return from a previous DL stint with a broken thumb, going 1-for-22 in his first five games back, suggesting he might have come back too quickly. His activation was rushed by an injury to infielder Juan Uribe, who went on the 15-day DL May 22 with a left hip-flexor strain, forcing the Dodgers to cut short Furcal's rehab and bring him back.

This time, the Dodgers want Furcal to be ready when he returns.

"He just needs to get some at-bats and get back on the field to where he is comfortable again," Mattingly said.

Furcal's rehab presumably would include a handful of games at second base to acclimate him to a position he hasn't played at all in three years and hasn't played to any appreciable degree in the majors in 11 years.

"I'm not thinking about that right now," he said. "I just want to go through a full practice today and see how I'm feeling and then decide when I'm going to the minor leagues to play some rehab games."

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.