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Dodgers seem to have a tepid feeling about the hot corner

Don Mattingly says Luis Cruz is getting the first shot at winning the third base job, but veteran Juan Uribe is looking for redemption. However, the club has explored other options.

February 20, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly high-fives infielder Luis Cruz after he hit a two-run home run against the Rockies last season.
Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly high-fives infielder Luis Cruz after he… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

PHOENIX -- For the Dodgers, third base represents uncertainty. It is the only position where they don't have a clear-cut starter.

Luis Cruz senses an opportunity. Juan Uribe is seeking redemption.

The Mexican-born Cruz had a fairy tale 2012 season. A career minor league player whose big league experience consisted of brief stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers, he was called up by the Dodgers on July 2.

Cruz played shortstop until the Dodgers moved him to third base to accommodate Hanley Ramirez, whom they acquired in a trade with the Miami Marlins. In 78 games, Cruz batted .297 with six home runs and 40 runs batted in.

Based on how Cruz played last season, Manager Don Mattingly said he will get the "first shot" to win the job.

"I don't have any doubt I can do it again," said Cruz, who turned 29 this month.

Part of Cruz's confidence going into this spring came from the training he did in the off-season at the La Jolla home of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Cruz said he dropped 10 pounds and reported to camp at about 216 pounds.

"I've always been at 220, 222, 225," Cruz said.

Compared with his workouts with Gonzalez, what he's doing with the Dodgers feels relatively easy.

"We ran 10 minutes the other day," Cruz said. "With him, we used to run 40 — and uphill."

But the Dodgers aren't entirely sold on Cruz. Last month, they reached out to free-agent third baseman Scott Rolen, who is contemplating retirement.

Cruz said he has ignored media reports that have portrayed him as a question mark.

"I don't pay attention to negative people," he said. "I'm here to do my work and show that I can do it. I know I can play here."

Uribe, 33, is trying to make the same point.

He hit a career-high 24 home runs three years ago for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, and the Dodgers gave him a three-year, $21-million contract.

But Uribe has hit unimaginable lows in his two seasons with the Dodgers, with a .199 batting average, six home runs and 45 RBIs in 143 games.

Uribe faces the danger of being released by his suddenly rich team, which could afford to eat the $8 million remaining on his deal. He knows he has to do something to make the opening-day roster.

"That's the reality," Uribe said. "As the whole world knows, I have to show something to the coaches, to the players. I have to show them that I can still do the job."

The Dodgers aren't thinking of Uribe as a full-time player. If Cruz can't secure the third base job, Mattingly said he would probably use a variety of players at the position, including Uribe, Jerry Hairston Jr. and the switch-hitting Nick Punto.

Uribe can strengthen his case for a roster spot by learning how to play first base, where the Dodgers have little depth behind four-time All-Star Gonzalez.

Acknowledging the last two seasons were painful, Uribe is desperate to turn around his career.

"In these two years, I couldn't do what I thought I could do," he said. "I haven't been able to do what they've expected me to do."

Uribe made only one start last season after July 22. He made only one appearance, as a pinch-hitter, after Aug. 26. But in a closed-door team meeting at the end of the season, he received unexpected praise from Mattingly for the way he handled himself.

"He very easily could have been a disruption in the clubhouse, he could have been a guy that was not involved," Mattingly said of Uribe. "But he wasn't. He showed himself to be a good teammate."

Uribe was touched.

"That motivated me very much," he said. "My spirits were down. Never in my career has this happened. But he made me feel part of the team.

"This is a new year. I'm going to try to do better."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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