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Juan Uribe slims down to hold down third base for Dodgers

Coming off an injury-filled season that fell way short of expectations, the veteran worked in the off-season with a trainer to get in better shape.

February 26, 2012|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Dodgers infielder Juan Uribe loosens up before a spring training game last season.
Dodgers infielder Juan Uribe loosens up before a spring training game last… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Phoenix -- Make no mistake: Juan Uribe is still top-heavy.

But Uribe reported to spring training over the weekend with a firmer-looking torso than he did in his disastrous first season with the Dodgers, when he appeared bloated and hit .204 with four home runs and 28 runs batted in.

His shoulders and arms are heftier. His midsection isn't protruding as much.

"I worked hard to try to regain what I lost last year," Uribe said.

Before the Dodgers' projected starting third baseman can move forward, he must revisit the past. Monday is reporting day for position players at Camelback Ranch but Uribe won't be there. He is a defendant in a civil trial in San Francisco scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. Uribe is being sued by his former landlord for $145,000 for damages related to a kitchen fire in 2010 when he was playing for the San Francisco Giants.

"You would rather settle the case and stay here and continue to work," he said. "But that's the situation."

Manager Don Mattingly said he isn't concerned that Uribe could sit out the first couple of days of full-squad workouts. Mattingly said Uribe appeared to be in a healthy mindset.

But Mattingly was quick to add, "He seemed good last year, too."

Uribe, who is beginning the second year of a three-year, $21-million contract, said he is a changed man as a result of the hit his pride took last season.

"You don't want a first season with a new team to be like that," he said. "You're in a new city. Of course it bothered me."

Mattingly said he could tell.

"It doesn't take a lot to know he's bothered by that," Mattingly said. "All these guys, we can portray them anyway we want and say, 'Oh, they're making money.' But when guys struggle, it's the same. If you have a bad year and everything went kind of wrong, I don't care who you are, you're going to feel bad about it."

Uribe landed on the disabled list for the first time last season in May because of a hip flexor. He landed on the disabled list again in late July, this time because of an abdominal strain. His season ended in September when he underwent sports hernia surgery.

He played only 77 games and never established any offensive rhythm. Only a season removed from hitting a career-high 24 home runs for the Giants, he set career lows in average, home runs and RBIs.

"It was a very difficult year, a very hard year," he said. "If it wasn't one thing, it was another."

Uribe, 32, said he hired a trainer, with whom he worked out every day in his native Dominican Republic. He said he was particularly conscious of strengthening his lower body.

"I worked hard, more than usual," Uribe said. "I really worked on my physical condition. I just pray to God to give me health. I'm trying to get through this year without any injuries."

He said he can run at 100% and that the pain that bothered him last season is completely gone.

When told his physique looked different than it did a year ago, Uribe's face lit up.

"Skinnier?" he said, nodding and smiling before receiving an answer.

Uribe said he lost weight, though he wouldn't divulge exactly how much. He said he can feel the difference in how he moves.

Uribe played multiple positions last season — second base, third base and shortstop — but Mattingly said he intends to play Uribe exclusively at third base this season.

"Juan's got great hands," Mattingly said. "I don't think we talk about that enough. This guy's a defender. He's got sure hands, a sure arm. He's got a good feel for the game. I know he struggled offensively and that got a ton of attention, but this guy can defend."

Asked whether he thought he could benefit from the stability, Uribe said, "You never know. For me, what's important is to play. I want to be in the lineup every day."

Watching Matt Kemp make a run at the triple crown last season, Uribe said he wondered what the team might have done had he performed at his customary levels. In 11 seasons, Uribe has hit 20 home runs or more four times; he hit 16 home runs twice.

"Imagine, with the great season Matt Kemp had, if all of us do our part, we could be better," Uribe said. "If you're a one-man team and that player doesn't perform on a particular day, it's hard."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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