Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake loosens up before a spring training game… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Phoenix
Rather than bend at the waist, Casey Blake gingerly squatted down to grab the crossword puzzle from his locker Sunday, evidence of the pain that's suddenly sidelined him two weeks before the Dodgers break spring training camp.
"It was tough to sleep last night," the veteran third baseman said of the apparent muscle strain behind his right rib cage, which hit Blake while he ran out a sacrifice bunt Saturday in a Cactus League game against the San Francisco Giants. "I'm pretty sore right now."
Blake probably will be out for at least one or two more days and, although an injury can happen to any player, Blake acknowledged that "certainly being 37 doesn't help at all. What are you going to do?"
One thing the Dodgers are going to do, according to Manager Don Mattingly, is periodically rest Blake this season even after he's healthy again, and whether he wants to sit or not. The idea is to ensure Blake makes it through the 162-game season without tiring and, perhaps, boost his meager production at the plate.
That decision was made before Blake was injured. Indeed, the Dodgers signed former Giant Juan Uribe in the off-season mainly to play second base but also because Uribe can occasionally spell Blake at third base, with Jamey Carroll likely to play second base for Uribe.
"It's not so much the injuries with Casey, it's more like, we feel like he just gets tired" as the season wears on, Mattingly said. Blake was rested on occasion last year too but still played in 146 games.
Mattingly, the former New York Yankees All-Star, speaks from experience. "I did it late in my [14-year] career; they started playing me less and I was better," he said. "I didn't want" days off and Blake "doesn't want them," Mattingly said. "But they end up being better for you."
The bearded Blake said he told Mattingly, "I want to play every day at third base." But, Blake added, "I've played long enough to know that, at 37, it takes a toll on the body. I don't know if I can play every day."
Entering his 13th big league season and the last year of a three-year, $17.5-million contact with the Dodgers, Blake lives in Indianola, Iowa, and his wife, Abbie, had their fifth child shortly before spring training opened. The couple also has donated $1 million to the Indianola school district for sports facilities and other projects.
Blake is eager to bounce back from a tough 2010 season, when he batted .248 with 17 home runs and 64 runs batted in. He started slowly again this spring, batting only .077 before getting injured.
With that performance in mind, Mattingly raised eyebrows with his decision to bat Blake second in the lineup behind Rafael Furcal.
Furcal, 33, also will be rested throughout the year because he has a history of back trouble.
"With Raffie and Casey, we look at it like we're going to get more if they play a little bit less," Mattingly said.
Yet when he's in the lineup, Blake might also play first base and right field at times. "They're positions I've played before, so it will give Donnie the opportunity for another right-handed bat, an opportunity to rest James [Loney] or Andre [Ethier] against a tough lefty," Blake said.
Blake said his talks with Mattingly about being rested started late last season. "I told him I've never come to the manager and asked for a day off," Blake said. "But he's been around me long enough now where maybe he can see my body language or some of my at-bats" and then decide "maybe I need one [day off]."
What if Blake is hitting well when it's time to sit? "It's a formula we're going to have to come up with," Blake said, adding with a wry grin that "I told Donnie that as streaky a hitter as I've been in my career, when I'm swinging the bat I need to be in there."
But Blake said he also told Mattingly: "Your job is to throw the best team out there that gives us the best chance to win. If you don't feel on any given night that I'm not one of the guys, hey, I understand."