Carl Crawford injury: Dodgers left fielder 'confident' in opening day return

Eric Stephen | True Blue LA

The left fielder continues therapy on his left elbow after Tommy John surgery in August, and expects to be ready on or around opening day.

Tuesday was the day for pitchers and catchers to report to Dodgers camp at Camelback Ranch, but mixed in with the battery mates were several position players, who reported early. Chief among the early reporting crew was Carl Crawford, who arrived in Arizona on Monday night, and seems anxious to move on from his time with the Red Sox.

"There was definitely a dark cloud over me when I was in Boston. I just didn't see a light at the end of the tunnel," Crawford said Tuesday. "They were the toughest two years of my career, by far."

Crawford has five years left on the seven-year, $142 million contract he signed with Boston prior to the 2011 season. He hit just .260/.292/.419 in two seasons with the Red Sox, and numerous injuries limited him to just 161 games played in two years. It got so bad in Boston for Crawford that he said he regretted the contract.

"A lot of times I did. You heard a lot of talk about how I just wanted money, and some point I wondered whether I made the right decision," he said. "At the end of the day I did it, and I'll try to put it behind me and move forward."

Crawford missed the first 89 games of 2012 while recovering from offseason surgery on his left wrist. Then, after playing just 31 games his season ended with Tommy John surgery on his left elbow on Aug. 23. He was traded to the Dodgers two days later.

The elbow surgery sidelined Crawford until mid-January. He is now back to throwing, light tossing from between 45 and 60 feet, and has topped out at 90 feet. Crawford has also been swinging a bat for the last two to three weeks, both off a tee and soft toss, but he said he is limited such that he can't do anything yet on an everyday basis.

Crawford said he has no pain in the elbow, but just fatigue in the muscles, which is pretty typical in recovery from Tommy John surgery. But the wrist is also a concern, as Crawford said he must continue to wear a sliding guard at all times while on the bases to avoid further injury.

"(The wrist) is something I'll have to stay on top of throughout the season," Crawford said.

Both general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly say they expect Crawford to be ready to play around opening day, though the outfielder will be limited during spring training, especially at first. Crawford said he would understand if the team wants to take it slow and not rush him out there every day.

"I'm confident. Physically my body feels good. I'm still doing therapy with the elbow. I think I can hit the cutoff man by opening day, but I don't know if that's when they'll want me to come back," Crawford said. "I see myself as an everyday guy, but I understand the thought of wanting to ease me back in. I haven't played since August, and didn't play two or three months before that."

Crawford has batted second most often in his career, with nearly half of his career starts coming from that batting order position. He also has 372 starts batting leadoff, but just 14 in the last six seasons combined. When asked Tuesday if he had a preference of where to hit in the batting order, Crawford said, "Wherever they put me, that's where I'll hit."

There have been rumors that Crawford doesn't like to hit leadoff and prefers batting second, but Crawford himself was baffled as to their origin.

"I've had that perception since I first came up. I don't know where it came from. I don't write the lineup. I just play wherever the manager put me," Crawford said. "Playing for guys like Lou Piniella, you can't tell him where you will hit at. He's the one who started hitting me in the two hole."

Piniella actually started with Crawford batting leadoff, something he did 334 times in Tampa Bay from 2003-2005. But after the All-Star break in 2005, Piniella's final season as manager, Crawford started 60 games batting second, the batting order position from which Crawford has started the bulk of his games for the last seven seasons.

"I never knew where that got started. When I was in the minor leagues, I never hit anywhere but leadoff. Somebody said I didn't want to hit leadoff and it's been with me for 10 years now," Crawford said, laughing.

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