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Dodgers face questions as spring training draws near

Chief among them is shortstop, where the team had hoped Hanley Ramirez could hone his skills in the Dominican winter league. But Ramirez played only designated hitter while nursing an injury.

January 09, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Hanley Ramirez will start at shortstop for the Dodgers this season, but the team expects the veteran to improve his defense.
Hanley Ramirez will start at shortstop for the Dodgers this season, but… (Christina House / For The…)

PHOENIX -- The Dodgers have taken on more than $600 million in salary commitments over the last year but will nonetheless head into spring training with a significant amount of uncertainty.

Hanley Ramirez was supposed to play shortstop in the Dominican winter league to prepare for a move back to his old position, but didn't. Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, who are recovering from major operations, only recently started baseball activities. The Dodgers' roster doesn't have a true leadoff hitter and has a surplus of starting pitchers.

With camp about a month away, General Manager Ned Colletti downplayed any concerns.

"If this is where we come into camp, we're in a good spot," Colletti said Wednesday at the team's spring-training complex, where the Dodgers are playing host to their annual winter development program for top prospects.

Colletti claimed to be comfortable with his options at shortstop, even though Ramirez didn't play there this winter.

A lifelong shortstop, Ramirez was moved to third base last spring by the Miami Marlins to accommodate Jose Reyes. Shortly after his midseason trade to the Dodgers, Ramirez moved back to shortstop but didn't look sharp.

His plans of playing shortstop in the Dominican winter league were derailed by a minor shoulder injury he suffered in November. Ramirez is said to be healthy but was exclusively a designated hitter for Licey.

But with promising-but-inexperienced Dee Gordon displaying defensive limitations in the same winter league, the Dodgers don't have any appealing alternatives to Ramirez.

"We feel we're the best club if Hanley's playing short," Manager Don Mattingly said.

The Dodgers have talked about moving the fleet-footed Gordon to the outfield but appear inclined to keep him at shortstop for now. Gordon figures to start the season at triple-A Albuquerque.

"I hate to give up on him at short," Mattingly said.

There are also some question marks regarding the health of the outfield. Kemp, who had shoulder surgery in October, and Crawford, who had an elbow operation in August, are on schedule to be ready for the start of spring training. The two outfielders have resumed hitting and throwing, but the team won't get an accurate measure of how they are recovering until they intensify their workouts over the next month.

Part of the blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox that included Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford was limited to 31 games last season. He is not only the projected starter in left field, but also a candidate to lead off on a team that lacks a prototypical top-of-the-lineup hitter.

Mattingly visited Crawford in his hometown of Houston on Tuesday and said the outfielder was open to batting leadoff.

When Mattingly asked Crawford about his reputed dislike of batting first, Crawford told him, "I don't know where that came from. I'll do whatever you want me to do."

"That being said," Mattingly said, "he feels he's had the most success hitting in the two-hole."

Other than Crawford, Mattingly will also look at Mark Ellis, Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto as potential leadoff men.

"The leadoff's the one spot I wrestle with a little bit, not having that true leadoff guy," Mattingly said.

Mattingly didn't sound concerned about how the Dodgers have eight starting pitchers and could have to move as many as three of them to the bullpen.

The rotation is expected to consist of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Josh Beckett. Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly could be turned into long relievers if they aren't traded.

With Billingsley coming off an elbow injury and Lilly off shoulder surgery, Mattingly said he likes the team's depth.

"We don't know what's going to happen over the course of spring training," Mattingly said.

Colletti said none of the pitchers have asked to be traded.

" I think they all want to compete and see how it turns out," Colletti said.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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