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Crawford injury sets Dodgers back in outfield, leadoff spot

The SportsXchange

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Carl Crawford's bloated contract was one of the things the Los Angeles Dodgers had to take on in order to land first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in last Augusts' blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox. But they hoped Crawford would rebound from wrist and elbow surgeries well enough to fill two problem spots for them -- left field and leadoff.

Last year, nine different players started in left field for the Dodgers at least once (none more than 48 times) and, as a group, posted a .674 OPS that ranked 24th in the majors. Leadoff was even more of a problem. The Dodgers' 2012 leadoff hitters batted a combined .226 with a .281 on-base percentage, both 29th in the majors.

It looks now like those problems will follow the Dodgers at least into the start of the 2013 season. Midway through spring training, Crawford experienced a setback in his recovery from Tommy John surgery and had to be shutdown from throwing or hitting for at least a week. After taking live batting practice (against a minor-league pitcher) just once, Crawford suffered nerve irritation in his left forearm. It now looks unlikely that he will be ready to open the season on time.

"It's still a goal of mine," Crawford said of playing on Opening Day. "If we have to push it back a week or whatever, I understand.

"It's frustrating but I know it's for my own good. I just have to be patient."

If Crawford is unavailable, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has indicated he would most likely go with a platoon of Jerry Hairston Jr. and Skip Schumaker in left field and some combination of players including Schumaker and Mark Ellis at leadoff. But 22-year-old Cuban prospect Yasiel Puig has made a positive early impression in spring camp. The Dodgers could be tempted to jump him from Class A to the majors and see how his raw skills translate at the big-league level for a short stretch.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Javy Guerra was a last-minute addition to Team Mexico for the WBC when Diamondbacks reliever David Hernandez was switched from the Mexican roster to Team USA. Guerra is one of six Dodgers who will participate in the WBC -- RHP Ronald Belisario (Venezuela), IF Nick Punto (Italy), SS Hanley Ramirez (Dominican Republic), 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 3B Luis Cruz and Guerra (Mexico).

--OF Matt Kemp made his spring debut over the weekend, starting at DH twice in Cactus League games. Kemp is recovering from surgery on his left shoulder last October. He is expected to start playing in the field this week and is on track to be ready for Opening Day.

--Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax's 10-day stay in camp ended last week. Koufax has agreed to be a special advisor to Dodgers chairman Mark Walter this year on a one-year basis and will work with the team's pitchers on occasion this season. "He was great," LHP Clayton Kershaw said of having the 77-year-old Koufax in camp. "I hope he had a good time. I hope we see him again during the season."

--Cuban prospect OF Yasiel Puig has been impressive early in the Cactus League schedule. He had seven hits in his first 18 at-bats (.389) with three doubles and caught eyes with his 6-foot-3, 245-pound physique. "He's a big kid," Angels RHP Jered Weaver said after facing Puig. "I felt like I was facing Frank Thomas in the box."

--LHP Hyun-jin Ryu has been "just okay" in his first two spring outings, according to manager Don Mattingly. Ryu gave up two runs on five hits and a walk in three innings against the White Sox and Angels early in camp. A dominant starter in Korea, Ryu is expected to be in the Dodgers' rotation this season though the team could avoid using a fifth starter until April 13 in San Diego.
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