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Carl Crawford confident he'll be in opening-day lineup

Four-time All-Star plays outfield for first time since Aug. 19, when he was with Boston Red Sox. Says he'll be 'real comfortable by April 1.'

March 23, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Carl Crawford, who played in the previous four Dodgers games as a designated hitter, took to the outfield for the first time since Aug. 19 when he was with the Boston Red Sox.
Carl Crawford, who played in the previous four Dodgers games as a designated… (Mark Duncan / Associated…)

PHOENIX — Playing left field for the first time in more than seven months, Carl Crawford said Saturday that he is confident he will be in the Dodgers lineup on opening day.

"I should be real comfortable out there by April 1," Crawford said.

Crawford was on the field for only the first three innings of the Dodgers' game against the Chicago White Sox and not a single ball was hit his way.

"Normally, when you get in and it's been a while, the ball usually comes right to you," Crawford said, smiling. "But I got lucky today. It was cool. It was real calm out there. It felt good to be back running on grass, just running in and out of the dugout — little things you take for granted."

Despite the lack of action, the four-time All-Star described his return to the field as "a major step."

Crawford had played in four previous games for the Dodgers this spring, all of them as their designated hitter.

The last time Crawford played in the outfield was Aug. 19 of last year, with the Boston Red Sox. He underwent a season-ending elbow operation four days later and was traded to the Dodgers as part of a four-player package Aug. 25.

Crawford is currently throwing the ball at about 90 feet. The Dodgers would like him to be at 125 feet by opening day.

His progress has convinced General Manager Ned Colletti that he will be able to play against the San Francisco Giants in the season opener.

"Now that I'm comfortable being out there, I can focus a little bit more on my swing," Crawford said.

Crawford batted leadoff and was one for two with an infield single. He is batting .267 this spring.

"That's still a work in progress right now," he said. "I'm using my legs to get the little hits I'm getting. I got a week to go. We're going to keep working on it."

If Crawford can't play on opening day, his place could be taken by 22-year-old Cuban defector Yasiel Puig.

Final preparations

Wanting to play his regular starters together, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly fielded a lineup Saturday that he described as "pretty close" to the lineup he will field opening day.

Following Crawford, in order, were second baseman Mark Ellis, center fielder Matt Kemp, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, right fielder Andre Ethier, shortstop Luis Cruz, third baseman Alfredo Amezaga and catcher A.J. Ellis.

Amezaga, a nonroster player, was a last-minute substitute for Juan Uribe, who was scratched because of a tight right hamstring. Uribe is expected to share time at third base with Jerry Hairston Jr. and Nick Punto. Hairston could draw the opening-day assignment since he has the best career numbers against San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain (four for 14 with two doubles).

Billingsley feels ready

Of the 92 pitches Chad Billingsley threw in a minor league game Saturday, none were curveballs. But Billingsley said his bruised index finger is feeling better and that he expects to make his first scheduled start of the regular season.

"As long as there are no setbacks, I plan to be ready," said Billingsley, who is in line to pitch April 2 in the Dodgers' second regular-season game.

Billingsley refrained from throwing his curveball out of fear that the nail on his index finger could fall off.

He expects to resume throwing his curveball in his next bullpen session.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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