Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford laughs with his teammates during a spring… (Paul Sancya / Associated…)
PHOENIX – Carl Crawford's first season with the Dodgers wasn't perfect. Crawford failed to avoid the disabled list and played in only 116 games. He didn't steal as many bases as he wanted.
But Crawford views the season as a triumph.
"I finally found a place to start over again," he said. "Even though I'd like to have a better season than I had last season, it was a place for me to start. I feel like I can keep building on it."
The former All-Star added that he regained the confidence he lost in the two injury-ravaged seasons before that, with the Boston Red Sox.
"For me, that was a big hurdle," Crawford said.
His mind now in the right place, the 32-year-old outfielder has set a new goal for the upcoming season: to remain healthy.
"I showed myself that I can still do the things I want to do if I stay healthy," Crawford said. "So that's the main thing, stay healthy. If you stay healthy, then everything will take care of itself, in my mind."
Early last season, he showed what he is capable of doing. Even with his left elbow still healing from reconstructive surgery, Crawford batted .301 with five home runs and nine steals in his first 51 games.
Then the hamstring problems started.
He strained his left hamstring on June 1 and was placed on the disabled list a couple of days later. He was sidelined for a month.
When he returned, he was more conservative on the basepaths. He was further slowed in September by back problems.
Crawford finished the season with respectable numbers — he batted .283 and stole 15 bases — but he wanted more.
Living in Arizona over the winter, Crawford addressed his health problems by spending a significant part of his off-season at the Dodgers' spring-training complex. Under the supervision of Dodgers trainers, he worked to strengthen his core and back.
Crawford, who was a four-time American League stolen-base champion with the Tampa Bay Rays, intends to become a threat on the basepaths again.
"I really want to run," he said. "I got gun shy last season because any time I stole a base, I had pain. I know I can steal 25 bases. It's frustrating when I'm stealing 10 or 11. I do everything else fast. I still run down balls in the outfield, I still get triples, I still go first to third, so it's frustrating I don't steal more bases."
His mentality is reflected in his change of uniform numbers. He wore No. 25 last year. He is now wearing No. 3.
"I didn't like the big number," Crawford said. "I wanted slasher-feel number again to put me in that mindset."
Of the small numbers that were available, he said he chose No. 3 in part because he is expecting his third child in six weeks.
Manager Don Mattingly said he has no problem if Crawford tries to run more. But Mattingly intends to protect Crawford by holding him out of the lineup on occasion.
"Sometimes you feel like you have to save guys from themselves," Mattingly said. "Carl's one of those guys who works hard, to the point where we have to slow him down a little bit. We want to take care of Carl. When we had him on the field and healthy, he was pretty good."
"We're not 23 any more," he said.
Crawford said he would also understand if Mattingly bats him second in the order, instead of leadoff as he did last year. Mattingly is exploring the idea of batting Yasiel Puig first.
As for the situation in the outfield, Crawford considers it a non-issue, even though he could be battling Puig, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier for playing time.
"We've all been starters," Crawford said. "We could all start for any other team. But we've been hit with the injury bug, so you can't really look at it as a bad thing for the team. We might need all four of us. I'm sure whoever's playing best is going to play. It's really simple.
"We all have bigger a goal of trying to get to the World Series. Having four outfielders is something we really shouldn't be worried about."