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Kiké Hernandez proving quite useful for Dodgers

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Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Kiké Hernandez hit a three-run home run in the Dodgers' 11-9 loss to the Giants in Scottsdale on Sunday, one of two split-squad games the Dodgers played on the final Sunday of camp (the club also beat the Rangers, 10-5, at Camelback Ranch).

Hernandez also played multiple positions in Sunday's game, starting at shortstop then moving to second base later in the game. His versatility has been a highlight of camp for the Dodgers, who might have a spot for him on their opening day bench.

"In the National League you always need a couple [utility players]," manager Don Mattingly said earlier this spring. "He's a little bit different than your normal utility guy because he can play the outfield."

That versatility was born at an early age, when Hernandez would accompany his coach father to winter league games in Puerto Rico.

"I would shag in center and track fly balls as a nine-year-old," Hernandez recalled. "When the veterans were hitting I would go and take grounders at shortstop, and just try and get in front of it."

In the sixth round of the 2009 draft, the Astros drafted Hernandez as a shortstop, though he would play most of his games in their system at second base. In Class-A ball in 2011 his playing time in the infield was limited so he would sometimes be the designated hitter.

"I have a little too much energy to be a DH," Hernandez said, smiling, "so I told the manager I could play the outfield."

That started a path for Hernandez, one that saw him make his major league debut in 2014 with Houston, then was traded to the Marlins. In his first major league season, in 2014, Hernandez started games at second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field and right field.

This spring for the Dodgers he has played all over, playing second base (four starts, 29 innings), third base (three starts, 21 innings), shortstop (three starts, 27 innings), center field (two starts, 16 innings) and left field (one start, seven innings).

Only four Dodgers since 1900 have started all five of those positions in one season, with Jolbert Cabrera the last in 2003. Others have come close but usually fall one position short. Elian Herrera played all five positions in 2012 but didn't start at shortstop. Wilson Valdez played all five in 2007 but didn't start in center field. Derrel Thomas, king of the utility men, played all five positions each year from 1980-1983, though never had a season where he started at all five (he did make starts in right field though, and also famously made three starts and played five games at catcher in 1980).

Hernandez started all five positions last year.

"He looks easy in the outfield. Defensively we think he's handled everything," Mattingly said three weeks ago. "We all feel like he's pressing on offense, but that will pass too. If a guy can hit, he can hit. You can see his swing is good. We'll do everything we can to help him relax."

Mattingly also described Hernandez on offense in the early going this spring as trying to impress, and gripping the bat so hard he grounded the wood into sawdust. That led to an 0-for-13 skid to open the Cactus League for Hernandez.

But since then he has just kept hitting.

Hernandez is 13-for-39 (.333) since the slow start, with two doubles and five home runs.

At 23, Hernandez is the youngest of the group fighting for a bench spot. He has options remaining, but so do Chris Heisey and Darwin Barney.

It's still an uphill battle, and if the Dodgers go with only five on the bench to open the season I have a hard time seeing anyone but A.J. Ellis, Justin Turner, Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier and Alex Guerrero in those spots.

But with Hyun-jin Ryu opening the season on the disabled list and the Dodgers not needing a fifth starter until April 14, the Dodgers can carry an extra player for the first seven games if they so choose. Mattingly has said the club is leaning toward an extra position player for that spot over an extra pitcher, which means there might be another chance for Hernandez to stick.

"The best way I can help the team win right now is as a super utility," Hernandez said. "I'm only 23, I don't see myself as a utility player, but at the moment it's what I have to do to help the team win, so that's what I'm going to do."