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Carl Crawford quickly makes believers of Dodgers

Returning from injury earlier than many expected, the Dodgers' leadoff batter raises hopes for the season with his speed and hitting in opening-day win.

April 01, 2013|By Kevin Baxter

All spring, Carl Crawford told anyone who would listen that he would be ready for the Dodgers' game on opening day.

He told the trainers who stood in the batting cage counting his swings to protect his surgically repaired elbow. He told the doctors who found nerve irritation in his forearm and ordered him to stop throwing. He even told his manager, Don Mattingly, whose best-case scenario early on had Crawford starting the season a couple of weeks late.

But Monday, after making good on his pledge and opening the season as the Dodgers' left fielder and leadoff hitter, Crawford offered a confession: He was bluffing the whole time.

"I didn't know for sure," Crawford said after collecting a single and a double and scoring a run in the Dodgers' 4-0 opening-day win over the San Francisco Giants. "I can't say I knew for sure."

Surgical procedures on his left wrist and elbow limited Crawford to 31 games with the Boston Red Sox last season. So when the Dodgers acquired Crawford and his oversized salary just five days after he underwent Tommy John surgery in August, it looked like a monstrously questionable move.

But if the four-time All-Star continues to play the way he did Monday against the San Francisco Giants, the deal could wind up being a steal. In his first at-bat as a Dodger, Crawford beat out an infield single. He was thrown out trying to steal third later in the inning. But, in his final at-bat, Crawford doubled to the opposite field, then scored on a wild pitch for the Dodgers' second run.

The performance was vintage Crawford, said teammate Nick Punto, who played against him for years in the American League before following him to Boston and, later, Dodger Stadium.

"That's the Carl Crawford … that frustrates the heck out of defenses and teams," he said. "If we can have that catalyst at the top of the lineup, that's going be a huge lift for us."

Matt Kemp agreed.

"He's going to be big for us this year as our leadoff hitter," Kemp said. "If he gets on base, he's going to be dangerous because he can steal some bases and do a lot of great things on the basepaths."

To do that, though, he'll have to stay healthy, something that's been a challenge for Crawford, who sat out more games than he played the last two years. But he promises he's not fibbing when he says he thinks those days are behind him.

"I definitely feel better about the way my body feels. I feel a lot healthier than I've felt in the last two years," he said. "I like my chances right now."

And after Monday, he likes the Dodgers' chances too.

"This has been one of the most exciting opening days I've been a part of. To feel that energy out there, everybody screaming, it was just great," he said softly. "My emotions were really running high, I was really excited about today. It was a feeling I haven't had in a while.

"I was looking forward to it, and I was just really happy to be out there."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

twitter.com/kbaxter11

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