Skip Shumaker has prepared to play multiple positions during spring training… (Paul Sancya / Associated…)
PEORIA, Ariz. — Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston Jr. each carried a pair of fielders' gloves to the backfields at Camelback Ranch on Saturday, just as they have done every morning during spring training.
"That's part of being a bench player," says Schumaker, who has played five positions in the majors, even pitching an inning. "That's why you take a couple of gloves out there in practice and work at every position. Because you don't know where you're going to be."
That may not be an issue should Carl Crawford's comeback from reconstructive elbow surgery remain stalled. If Crawford, who won't be able to take batting practice or throw for at least five more days, isn't ready to go on opening day, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said he'll probably replace him by platooning the left-handed-hitting Schumaker and the righty-swinging Hairston in left field.
"If you're going to ask me today, those two guys — knowing that they're going to be here if they're healthy — that kind of gives me a left-right situation in left field," Mattingly said.
What it doesn't give him, however, is a leadoff hitter. Although Crawford's numbers batting first — .284 average and a .319 on-base percentage — are lower than his overall career totals of .292 and .332, Mattingly said he fits best in the lineup at the top of the order. And Mattingly certainly has a need for a productive leadoff hitter since the Dodgers ranked 29th in the majors in batting (.226) and OBP (.281) from the No. 1 spot last season.
One option in Crawford's absence is Hanley Ramirez, who had a single and a walk, scoring twice, in Saturday's 9-5 loss to the Seattle Mariners. A former batting champion, Ramirez has more career plate appearances and better numbers — .309 average, .385 OBP — in the leadoff spot than anywhere else in the order.
But Mattingly thinks his offense works better with Ramirez hitting in the middle of the lineup, between lefties Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier.
"If I hit Hanley first, it really put me in a bind," Mattingly said. "I can't really sit here and say 'this guy's hitting leadoff.' So that's kind of like saying closer by committee. I'm almost leading off right now by committee."
Who would take Crawford's spot in the field isn't quite as complicated. Although the Dodgers have nine outfielders in camp, they don't want to rush young phenom Yasiel Puig, who is having an impressive spring. Alex Castellanos may also need more time in the minors and nonroster invitee Tony Gwynn Jr. doesn't appear to fit into the team's plans.
Which brings the team back to its original plan of using Hairston, a utility man who played six positions last year, to spell Crawford from time to time. And if Crawford's absence is prolonged, that will probably mean more at-bats for Schumaker.
"Whatever the team needs," Schumaker said. "You need me in the outfield, great. I'm just kind of geared to let the big boys get healthy. And when they're healthy, then I'd like to sit and watch them play because they're so good."
But then again all this planning may be a little premature because Crawford is hopeful he'll be in left field, batting leadoff, on April 1.
Which is why Schumaker and Hairston are still carrying their tiny infielders' gloves and a basket-like outfielder's glove to the backfields every morning.
"The biggest thing I've learned, sometimes you plan to play a certain position, it's always going to be another position," said Hairston, who is also the Dodgers' emergency catcher. "When I got traded to Milwaukee, they wanted me to play second [and] I ended up playing center and third base every day.
"I prepare for all positions so whatever happens, I'm not surprised."