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Dodgers likely to mix and match with leadoff role

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

MESA -- The Dodgers have used three different leadoff hitters in six Cactus League games so far, and it seems like that could be more of the norm in the regular season as well, manager Dave Roberts discussed on Tuesday.

It is still early in the Cactus League schedule, and Roberts noted that much of the lineups had a lot to do with getting players in and out of games, or getting some regulars a certain number of plate appearances. Carl Crawford has started three games at leadoff, including Tuesday against the Cubs, but he figures to start the season in reserve and not get many starts.

As the spring schedule gets into late March, Roberts said, his lineups will start to closer resemble his regular season versions.

That's versions. Plural. Especially at the leadoff position.

"I just don't foresee a designated leadoff guy," Roberts said. "Every day is different, every pitcher is different. What makes sense that day or night will do."

Creativity is often born out of necessity, and since the Dodgers don't have a true, prototypical leadoff hitter. But they do have components that might fit in certain matchups.

Some nights it could be Howie Kendrick, who has hit just about everywhere in the lineup in his decade in the majors, and owner of a .333 career on-base percentage, .338 against left-handed pitching. The top spot in the batting order across the National League in 2015 had a .330 on-base percentage.

Kendrick his hit leadoff in his two starts so far this spring.

Or it could be Kike Hernandez and his .426 career OBP against lefties (albeit in just 126 major league plate appearances).

Or maybe Corey Seager against right-handed pitchers, or Yasiel Puig against left-handers, that is if they aren't hitting in the middle of the order.

Joc Pederson started 69 times at leadoff and hit 16 of his 26 home runs on the season batting leadoff. He had a .346 on-base percentage on the season even with his second-half nosedive, though it was just .325 while batting leadoff.

"If we have a guy who can do damage hitting at the top of the order, then he has all the freedom to swing the bat and not try to draw a walk," Roberts said.

Andre Ethier has never batted leadoff, but he owns a .383 career on-base percentage against right-handed pitching, so perhaps he would be considered, though again that .507 career slugging versus righties likely means he'll hit lower.

But the point is there will be several candidates to hit leadoff, especially if dictated by the matchups, rather than one set person. Other positions will be flexible, too. Welcome to modern baseball.

"As a former leadoff hitter, we've all been conditioned to routines and consistency. But as this game has evolved, we've all had to see this game in a different way. I've had many conversations with players that there's going to be some change," Roberts explained. "Where you hit in the order in years past and decades past, there's a lot to be said for that. But this day in age with the data that we have, sometimes change is good."

Hearing Roberts espouse lineup flexibility and having an open mind to new ideas is of course welcome, but a little unexpected in this regard since he was so closely defined as a leadoff hitter.

Roberts made 657 career starts in his 10 big league seasons, and 638 of those came batting first, or 97.3 percent of the time.

"Regardless of where an individual hits in the lineup, it shouldn't change how they are as a hitter," Roberts said.