Dodgers links: Leadoff hitter, Starting rotation competition

Carl Crawford said he will bat wherever Don Mattingly marks his name in the lineup. - True Blue LA

Two questions heading into spring training for the Dodgers are who will bat leadoff and just how many of the eight starting pitchers currently on the roster will be there to open camp on Feb. 12 at Camelback Ranch.

The Dodgers are holding their winter development program this week at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona, and Wednesday was media availability day. Both Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times and Ken Gurnick of MLB.com were there, and two main themes arose from their reports.

Who will bat leadoff?

Despite Gurnick continuing to tout Gordon as a "true" leadoff hitter (in fairness, Gurnick is likely not alone in that opinion), the shortstop's .280 on-base percentage is the biggest reason why the Dodgers are currently in search of someone to bat at the top of their order.

Carl Crawford was visited by manager Don Mattingly on Tuesday in Houston, and the left fielder remains an option to hit first, though the caveat offered by Mattingly suggests otherwise. Per Hernandez:

When Mattingly asked Crawford about his reputed dislike of batting first, Crawford told him, "I don't know where that came from. I'll do whatever you want me to do."

"That being said," Mattingly said, "he feels he's had the most success hitting in the two-hole."

Crawford has started 372 games batting leadoff in his career, though has done so just seven times in the last five seasons. He has hit second 626 times in his career.

"Not having a true leadoff guy," Mattingly said, per Gurnick, "we'll have to work on that in the spring. Mark Ellis was really good against lefties. Skip [Schumaker], Nick [Punto]. There are different combinations we could hit on top."

Ellis batted leadoff 31 times for the Dodgers last season, and hit second 68 times. On the year, he hit .258/.333/.364 overall.

I would imagine Schumaker gets more playing time than Punto, whether it is spelling Ellis at second base or filling in occasionally for either Carl Crawford or Matt Kemp, both recovering from offseason surgery. The left-handed hitting Schumaker has hit .305 with a .359 on-base percentage against right-handed pitchers in his career.

Mike Petriello at Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness delved into the leadoff question and saw Hanley Ramirez as "a flawed, but acceptable solution," but noted how such a move would leave a hole in the middle of the order.

If I were a betting man, given the current roster, I think leadoff will be a combination of whomever is playing second base, Ellis or Schumaker.

How many starting pitchers open camp?

We know the Dodgers have a starting pitcher surplus, and it stands to reason that at least one pitcher might be traded prior to spring training. But among the Dodgers' eight starting pitchers, two have significant injury concerns. Ted Lilly is coming off shoulder surgery and hasn't pitched in the majors since late May, and Chad Billingsley has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, hoping that a pair of platelet-rich plasma injections were enough to heal him.

It's understandable that Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang might want to take their chances to win a spot on the team, either in the rotation or in long relief.

"We don't know what's going to happen over the course of spring training," Mattingly said, per Hernandez.

"The sense I've gotten is they'd rather not be traded. I've not had one agent say they don't want to be a part of it," general manager Ned Colletti told Gurnick, "They want to compete and see how it turns out. For me, it's always fluid. One day you have too many, the next day too little."

From the Dodgers' standpoint, it probably makes sense to exercise patience. After all, remember in 2010 when the Dodgers had six starting pitchers under contract to open spring training, only to end up with Charlie Haeger and John Ely in the rotation in April?

But for this year, the Dodgers signed their extra lefty reliever in J.P. Howell, and their 25-man roster is pretty much set outside of perhaps another bench player. If the Dodgers could acquire someone like that for Capuano or Harang, they probably will. But depth isn't a bad thing and the Dodgers can afford to wait and see.

In other news...

  • Steve Dilbeck of the Times said the BBWAA got it right on Wednesday by not electing anyone into the Hall of Fame.
  • Jon Weisman at Variety called the Hall of Fame balloting a travesty.
  • Among a few more minor league moves made by the Dodgers in the first week of 2013, per Matt Eddy of Baseball America, were the signings of right-handed pitcher Danny Carela and second baseman Felipe Burin, and the release of 22-year old pitcher Derek Cone, drafted in the 31st round in 2010.
  • Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed on Thursday to modify the drug agreement to allow for random, unannounced HGH testing in-season. "The Players are determined to do all they can to continually improve the sport’s Joint Drug Agreement," said MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner. "Players want a program that is tough, scientifically accurate, backed by the latest proven scientific methods, and fair; I believe these changes firmly support the Players’ desires while protecting their legal rights."
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