Reporting from Phoenix — The last time Dodgers reliever Blake Hawksworth appeared in a regular-season game, he was lying on the ground at Wrigley Field after a line drive by the Chicago Cubs' Sam Fuld had smashed into Hawksworth's upper lip.
That was Sept. 25 and Hawksworth, then a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, was done for the year. Two months later, the right-hander was traded to the Dodgers for infielder Ryan Theriot.
Now, Hawksworth is poised to be a key middle reliever for the Dodgers, and he said Friday that whatever trepidation he felt about facing batters again had dissipated.
"My only thoughts" about the injury "were pregame" before his first CactusLeague outing this spring, Hawksworth said. "It was like, wow, this is the first time I'll see a hitter since the accident. But once I was out there it was fine."
Hawksworth, 28, has appeared in four games this spring and given up one run in 51/3 innings. In his most recent outing, against the Oakland Athletics on Thursday, he did not give up a hit or run in 11/3 innings.
Hawksworth recalled that Fuld's line drive hit him "in the upper lip but it got the bottom lip too. It pushed two [teeth] back but they were able to set them back into place."
Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said that in one of Hawksworth's first appearances this spring, a batter "hit a seed up the middle" past Hawksworth. Mattingly said he later asked the pitcher, "What did you think when that happened?" Mattingly paraphrased Hawksworth's reply as "It kind of makes you think a little bit."
"It's something you have to overcome," Mattingly said.
After seven years in the minor leagues, Hawksworth had a sparkling rookie season with the Cardinals in 2009 with a 2.03 earned-run average in 30 relief appearances. He was less effective last year, finishing 4-8 with a 4.98 ERA in 45 games, including eight starts.
Hawksworth is known for his fastball and what Mattingly has called his "filthy changeup." Hawksworth said he was taught the pitch at age 14 by former major league pitcher Bill Caudill, his coach in summer ball n Redmond, Wash.
Although Hawksworth has been a starter at times, Mattingly said "he's just had more success when he's able to come in [as a reliever] and be aggressive." But Hawksworth also is "a couple-of-innings" guy who can be used to get more than three outs, Mattingly said.
Either way, Hawksworth said he's focused on "making pitches one at a time. It's taken time for me to learn that. As a younger pitcher coming up, you can try to do too much. Less is more for me."
Casey Blake, 37, left the Dodgers' split-squad game against the San Francisco Giants after his first at-bat because of tightness in his lower back. He was listed as day to day. … Several players are fighting for a backup infielder's spot, including Aaron Miles, Juan Castro and Ivan DeJesus, but Mattingly said, "I'm not really willing to handicap" the competition yet and, "Let's just see what happens."