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DODGERS

Dodgers' bench will be tested again

Skip Schumaker probably will start in center field in the division series. He's one of the NL West champions' versatile reserves who have been key to the team's success.

October 01, 2013|By Steve Dillbeck
  • Skip Schumaker makes a diving catch against the Colorado Rockies on Sept. 4. Schumaker is likely to start in centerfield when the Dodgers open their National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves on Thursday.
Skip Schumaker makes a diving catch against the Colorado Rockies on Sept.… (Dustin Bradford / Getty…)

It should feel familiar by now, this reaching into the depths to keep things afloat. If the Dodgers ever had their entire team healthy all at once, it would look foreign to them.

Yet here they are, on the eve of the 2013 postseason, full of lofty expectations and again trying to piece a lineup together.

Matt Kemp is out for the postseason with an ankle injury and Andre Ethier's sore leg could limit him to pinch-hitting. Those were their center fielders almost all season.

QUIZ: Postseason Dodgers -- what do you know?

What to do?

What they've done all season — call on the bench.

Skip Schumaker, the man of many positions, is expected to start in center field for the Dodgers in their division series opener in Atlanta on Thursday against the Braves. Schumaker, who played six positions this season — including two games as a relief pitcher — has been in center 27 games this season.

"That's kind of been the story of the season for us, piecing together a lineup and not really having our full deck," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "But we overcame, and that's probably been a benefit for us.

"We've seen that we can do this. We went on an amazing second-half run and didn't have a full deck then. We know that we can step on the field and play with anybody as long as we do what we're capable of."

The Dodgers' bench is centered around veteran, versatile players. Nick Punto, Michael Young, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Schumaker can all play several positions and have all been in a World Series.

Tim Federowicz, 26, will back up Ellis at catcher and could be the only reserve under the age of 33.

The Dodgers used the disabled list 25 times this season and some who were supposed to have limited roles often became major players. Punto played in 116 games. His high in the previous three seasons was 88.

Now Schumaker probably will have to take center stage in the postseason.

"When you build a roster you try to build it with depth, and it's getting tested," Manager Don Mattingly said.

The Dodgers never really had a full, healthy roster this season. Even when the team went on that 42-8 run that turned their season around, Kemp was out on one of his three trips to the disabled list.

Ethier, normally the right fielder, moved to center really for the first time as a major leaguer. He excelled in the middle, centering a season that could have gone astray right then.

But now he's out too, and the Dodgers look to Schumaker.

"I haven't been told anything yet, so I'm just going to be ready to play just like everyone else on our squad," Schumaker said. "If I so happen to be in center field, I'll be ready. But I haven't been told anything and Ethier looked pretty good today."

Ethier played some light catch and took batting practice Tuesday at Dodger Stadium before the team took a flight to Atlanta, but he did not run the bases. The shin splints on his left leg mostly respond to rest.

The Dodgers have to decide whether to place him on the 25-man playoff roster, knowing if he gets on base, they will have to use another player to run for him.

It's the kind of complicated, ever-evolving roster approach the Dodgers have juggled with all season.

"Everything is just fluid," Mattingly said.

General Manager Ned Colletti has presented Mattingly with a versatile, National League-style bench. Young can play all four infield positions, Punto three, Hairston three plus left field and Schumaker can play second base and all three outfield spots.

"It's probably the best bench I've been on as far as experience, postseason experience and versatility," Schumaker said.

Schumaker and Punto won a World Series with the Cardinals two years ago. Both are from south Orange County, still live there and carpool to Dodger Stadium together for every game. They even live near each other in the same housing tract.

"It's a driver, about 300 yards," Punto said.

Punto said having veterans at the heart of the bench who are focused on winning has helped the Dodgers avoid the problems that can arise on teams who have a young player eager to become a starter and make a name for himself.

"Our bench guys have brought us good attitude," Mattingly said. "These guys understand who they are. Great team guys, great locker-room guys. And they come with experience. They've won a World Series. They bring a lot to the table."

Now they're asked to bring just a little more, the next test waiting in the postseason.

Sports@latimes.com

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