Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe has struggled at the plate this spring. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Phoenix — As Clayton Kershaw walked by the pingpong table in the middle of the Dodgers' clubhouse Wednesday morning, Juan Uribe picked up a paddle and challenged him to a game. Kershaw accepted.
As soon as Uribe was ahead by a couple of points, he set down his paddle, planted himself on a nearby chair and declared, "I win!" The nearby crowd of Spanish-speaking players roared with laughter. Kershaw smiled, shook his head and returned to his locker.
Uribe is still smiling and still optimistic but still isn't hitting.
He is batting .217 this spring, and all five of his hits are singles.
"I'm not worried because this is practice," Uribe said, smiling and as carefree as ever. "I want to make sure I'm healthy, that I'm having good at-bats. It doesn't matter if I get hits. This is to prepare for the regular season."
Uribe said he was pleased with the results of the surgery he underwent in the fall for the sports hernia that prematurely ended the first season of his three-year, $21-million contract.
"You really don't know how you feel until you start playing," he said.
Even if the results don't show it, Uribe said he already feels more comfortable at the plate than he did last season when he hit .204 in 77 games. He said he started working out in his native Dominican Republic in November, which was earlier than in previous winters.
Manager Don Mattingly said Uribe's swing appears more controlled but added, "We're just going to have to see. There's times he's looked really good, there's times he's looked not so good."
For now, Uribe remains the starting third baseman.
"I think we also know who we're going to start with," Mattingly said, referring to opening day. But "if he struggles and struggles and struggles, I'm going to put someone out there that gives us a better chance to win."
Potential alternatives would include veteran utilitymen Jerry Hairston Jr. and Adam Kennedy, as well as non-roster player Josh Fields.
Wright has streak going
In each of the last six years, Jamey Wright went into spring training on a minor league contact. Each time, he made a major league opening-day roster.
Wright is aiming to extend that streak to seven years with the Dodgers.
The 37-year-old right-hander pitched two perfect innings in the Dodgers' 3-0 loss to the San Diego Padres on Wednesday, lowering his earned-run average to 2.57. He appears to be one of the leading candidates for the final spot in the bullpen.
"I don't ever put the cart before the horse, I don't assume anything," Wright said. "Going into the season, the last six years, I've never had a place to live when we got there. I don't start looking until I know for sure."
But Wright said he is also looking to do something he has never done in his 16 years in the major leagues: reach the postseason.
"That's all I really care about right now, getting that opportunity," he said.
Utility infielder Justin Sellers was sidelined because of a tight quadriceps. A contender for the final spot on the bench, Sellers is expected back Friday. … The Dodgers' top pitching prospects are expected to travel with the team for its charity game in Tucson on Friday against the Chicago White Sox. Tentatively scheduled to make the trip are former first-round picks Zach Lee, Ethan Martin and Chris Reed, as well as Allen Webster and Shawn Tolleson.