Blake DeWitt is thrown a curve but handles it well

He is displaced at second base when the team acquires Orlando Hudson, but tries to make the best of it by showing versatility as a utility man.

April 01, 2009|Dylan Hernandez

TUCSON — The shape of Blake DeWitt's season changed one day early in Dodgers camp when news of Orlando Hudson's signing reached the second-year infielder's locker.

A conversation with Manager Joe Torre the next day confirmed what DeWitt already knew.

Hudson would be the Dodgers' starting second baseman, not DeWitt.

"Anybody who's competitive wants to win, wants to be in there playing," DeWitt said. "I don't think you're jumping up and down. But you've got to understand the situation."

DeWitt is only 23 but now understands as much as anyone in the Dodgers' clubhouse how a ballplayer's circumstances can change in an instant.

Last year he went into spring training without any expectations, only to end up starting on opening day.

This year he went into spring training with the expectation of being the everyday second baseman. Yet, five days from opening day, he isn't sure if he'll even make the 25-man roster as a utility man.

How's that for irony?

"I'm not the first player that has had to sit and wait," DeWitt said. "It's part of the game."

If DeWitt comes across as overly mature to sound sincere, consider this: the kid who says all the right things is also doing all the right things.

"He's a pro," third base coach Larry Bowa said. "Believe me, he's a pro."

DeWitt showed that to the Dodgers over a hectic rookie season last year that began on the minor league side of their spring-training complex in Vero Beach, Fla.

He was just another prospect when disaster struck at third base.

Nomar Garciaparra fractured a wrist. Andy LaRoche broke a thumb.

DeWitt was summoned to big league camp. And when the Dodgers couldn't find a solution on the trade market, DeWitt became the man at third.

"I had to find the confidence," he said. "They had the confidence to stick me up there. When they have that kind of confidence in you, you have to have that kind of confidence in yourself too."

DeWitt hit .327 with four home runs and drove in 21 runs in his first 35 games.

But there were more trials. He didn't hit particularly well the rest of the season, batting .238 with five home runs and 31 runs batted in over his final 82 games. Twice, he was sent to the minors. Twice, he was called up.

And when Jeff Kent went down in late August, DeWitt was asked to start at second base. But he made the adjustment well enough that in the postseason Torre started him over a recovering Kent.

DeWitt said he learned something about himself.

"That you can do it," he said.

That confidence would become important once more, what with Hudson at second now and Casey Blake at third.

DeWitt kept that in mind when Bowa approached him with the idea of adding shortstop to his resume, thereby increasing his versatility and perhaps a better chance at earning a roster spot as a backup infielder.

Playing those three positions, DeWitt has done well enough to earn a place on the team. He was three for five with a home run and a double in the Dodgers' 10-9 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday and raised his spring average to .299.

"We're asking him to do a lot of different things at 23 years old," Bowa said. "Most guys when they're 34, 35 years old, they're asked to do what he's doing. Third, second, short. All different arm angles. All different release points. Different pivots. Different game situations. It's a lot to throw on a kid. I don't like to use the word unfair but you're asking a lot from someone young to do that."

Still, nothing is certain and hitting off the bench could be a challenge.

"Obviously, if he doesn't start, he's going to be called on to hit in the eighth or ninth inning," Bowa said. "Who does he face in the eighth or ninth inning? The setup man and the closer. It's tough."

Torre acknowledged that the decisions about what to do with DeWitt and Chin-lung Hu are the two toughest that management is facing.

"In Blake's case, it's tougher because of what he did last year and because of the anticipation of what he was going to do this year until we signed Hudson," Torre said.

The decision is as much to do with what's best for DeWitt's future as it is with what he can do for the team.

"If we knew he could get 250 at-bats as an extra guy, I'd say keep him," Bowa said. "If you project that he's going to get 100, you're hurting his progress."

And the Dodgers know that if the at-bats are few, then DeWitt would be better served playing in triple A.

DeWitt said he can't concern himself with any of that.

"You try to make it as hard as you can, but it's out of your control," he said. "Whatever happens, happens."


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