PHOENIX — Doug Mientkiewicz was considered a longshot to make the Dodgers' opening-day roster when he reported late to camp as a last-minute minor league signing.
He has a better chance than that, Manager Joe Torre said.
Mientkiewicz looked relieved when he heard that. With five more months in the majors, the 34-year-old utilityman will have 10 years of service time, which would improve his retirement benefits. Mientkiewicz has already assured himself of receiving healthcare for the rest of his life; reaching 10 years will ensure that his wife, Jodi, is also covered.
That's of utmost importance in light of what happened last year, Mientkiewicz said.
While Mientkiewicz was playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jodi was discovered to have a viral infection that caused a complete blockage in a crucial area of her heart. She had surgery in August and had a pacemaker installed.
"It's kind of put this whole thing in perspective," said Mientkiewicz, who is with his seventh club in six years.
Mientkiewicz said he "absolutely" believes that he can still play in the majors and that he will become a free agent if he isn't added to the 25-man roster by April 6, as his contract allows, even if it means he would be closing the door on playing for the manager who lured him to the Dodgers.
Mientkiewicz played for the New York Yankees under Torre in 2007. Because of their past, Mientkiewicz said he was able to report to camp without concerns that he'd be judged solely on a handful of spring at-bats.
Not that that would necessarily hurt him.
Mientkiewicz, who played in the infield and outfield this spring, drove in the Dodgers' only run in their 4-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Friday, singling in his only at-bat to raise his spring average to .300.
Ramirez to bat third
Manny Ramirez collected three up-the-middle singles against the Royals, batting third in a lineup that might be similar to the one Torre fields on opening day. The only projected starter missing was Casey Blake, who left camp for the birth of his third child.
Torre said he's committed to batting Ramirez third.
"Manny could hit anywhere," Torre said. "You just want him up as much as possible."
Ramirez hit behind Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson. Andre Ethier was fourth, followed by Russell Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp and Blake's replacement, Blake DeWitt. Pitching was opening-day starter Hiroki Kuroda.
Chad Billingsley sounded confident he would be ready to pitch at the start of the regular season, saying that a 30-pitch bullpen session eased whatever concerns he had about his strained groin. Billingsley is scheduled to pitch in a simulated game Sunday. . . . When talking about the Dodgers' fifth starter spot, Torre mentioned James McDonald and no one else, the latest sign that the rookie right-hander will earn a place in the rotation. . . . Kuroda had a rough day, giving up four runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. He also was nearly struck in the head by a comebacker hit by Mike Aviles. . . . Jeff Weaver, a non-roster player who could make the team, pitched a scoreless inning. He gave up two hits but struck out three. . . . Outfielder Delwyn Young continues to have discomfort in his elbow and will be examined by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache.. . . . Eric Gagne, who suffered a shoulder injury and was cut by the Milwaukee Brewers this spring, showed up as a visitor