KISSIMMEE, FLA. — Third baseman Wilson Betemit took spring rustiness to an extreme Thursday, misplaying three ground balls in four innings of the Dodgers' 7-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves in a Grapefruit League opener.
Betemit pretty much grew up with the Braves, signing (illegally) at 15 in 1996, breaking into the major leagues in 2001 and batting .305 in 2005. He was traded to the Dodgers at midseason last year for Willy Aybar and Danys Baez.
But Betemit looked anything but comfortable Thursday, reacting slowly to field a ground ball that was scored a single in the first inning and booting ground balls for errors in the third and fourth.
"I closed my glove too soon both times," he said. "I'm not too worried about it."
Betemit's strength is his power -- 18 home runs in 373 at-bats last season -- but if he's a defensive liability he'll risk losing his job to Andy La Roche.
"He's plenty adequate, probably better than average," Manager Grady Little said. "We like Wilson, he just had a tough game."
In a squeeze
Shortstop Wilson Valdez doubled, turned two double plays and made an error after replacing Rafael Furcal in the fourth inning, reminding coaches that he could be an alternative as a utility player.
More likely, Valdez is auditioning for other organizations. He has no minor league options left, meaning that if he doesn't make the opening day roster he would have to agree to an assignment at triple-A Las Vegas, where he performed well as the everyday shortstop last year. Ramon Martinez has the utility job sewn up barring injury, so Valdez is little more than insurance.
In a concession to his veteran status, as well as to knees, back and hips that need to remain in working order at least through September, Mike Lieberthal won't catch often this spring.
Lieberthal will serve as designated hitter today in the home opener against the Washington Nationals and isn't scheduled to catch until Sunday.
"He'll get his share of at-bats, but we're not going to press him into a lot of action behind the plate," Little said.
Lieberthal, who signed a one-year deal to back up Russell Martin, has spent more hours behind the plate during workouts the last two weeks than he might the first two months.
Jason Schmidt, the Dodgers' most prominent off-season free-agent signing, will start today.... Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent and Luis Gonzalez will be in the lineup.