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Chris Taylor plays center field for the first time in Dodgers spring opener

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Utility infielder trying new position to increase roster versatility

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers
Chris Taylor added another dimension to his bid to make the Dodgers roster on Saturday.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX — The Dodgers won their Cactus League opener against the White Sox, 5-3 at Camelback Ranch, and Chris Taylor added another tool to his utility belt by playing four innings in center field, a position he had never played as a professional before Saturday.

Taylor, acquired from the Mariners last season, only played shortstop, second base and third base in his five years in the majors and minors. He said he played four games in right field at the University of Virginia.

"The last time I played center field was probably Little League," Taylor said.

Manager Dave Roberts said the idea of having Taylor play some outfield was broached during his first meeting with Taylor at the beginning of camp. Taylor has been working with first base coach and outfield coordinator George Lombard this spring at the new position.

"To potentially see him out there in center field, supporting him being able to defend in the infield, just gives us more options,” Roberts said. “It makes sense for our roster to see if he can handle center field.”

Taylor, 26, appeared in 36 games for the Dodgers in 2016, hitting .207/.256/.362, starting five games at second base, four at shortstop and two at third base. He hit .322/.397/.474 in 78 games in Triple-A between Tacoma and Oklahoma City, including .348/.400/.511 against left-handed pitching.

Adding another arrow to Taylor’s quiver could boost his chances of making the Dodgers’ roster as a utility man, likely battling Kiké Hernandez and non-roster invitee Charlie Culberson this spring.

"Being as versatile a player as you can is only going to help you,” Taylor said. “We have a lot of really good players on this team, so you never know where you're going to end up.”

Kershaw starts the grind

Clayton Kershaw was efficient in his one inning of work, needing 12 pitches to retire the side in order. He threw eight strikes, including a strikeout of Melky Cabrera.

"Fastball command wasn't as good as wanted it to be, and that's probably the most important thing the first time out, getting your fastball command where you want it to be,” Kershaw said. “Everything else works off that. I got behind every batter, but the results were there. I got three outs, so I'll take it for today, and get ready for the next one.”

Kershaw threw another 17 pitches in the bullpen after his start.

"It was good to see him back out there,” Roberts said. “I know he's probably going to lose sleep over that changeup he left out of the zone.”

Notes

Brett Eibner, the outfielder acquired from the A’s on Jan. 25, hit a fly ball over the right field wall in the sixth inning for the Dodgers’ first home run of the spring.

Left-handed pitcher Edward Paredes, selected by the Dodgers in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, recorded three outs in the ninth inning to preserve the win and record the Dodgers’ first save of the spring.

White Sox catcher Geovany Soto caught the first four innings on Saturday, but was already out of the game by the time his teammate, relief pitcher Giovanni Soto, entered the game in the sixth inning. We were robbed.

Rich Hill starts on Sunday against the Brewers at Maryvale, a 12:05 p.m. PT start on SportsNet LA. Willy Peralta starts for Milwaukee. Other Dodgers pitchers on the travel roster for the game are Ross Stripling, Trevor Oaks, Chris Hatcher, Brandon Morrow and Ralston Cash.

Andre Ethier and Chase Utley are also scheduled to make the trip on Sunday, for their spring debuts.