LOS ANGELES -- Before this July, Luis Cruz had played in just 56 major-league games, including none in 2011. His career not only was teetering, but perhaps even foundering.
Now, according to manager Don Mattingly, he has cemented himself into the Los Angeles Dodgers' long-term plans as an everyday player. Cruz, who was called up July 2, is batting .306, including .360 since Sept. 14. He has played Gold Glove-caliber third base and become a folk hero among Dodgers fans, who chant his name every time he contributes.
Dodgers players were wearing T-shirts with "Cruuuuuz" on the back before Friday night's game.
"I'll be honest with you. I thought he was going to get exposed at some point, go through a cold spell," Mattingly said. "He's handled everything that they've given him. To me Luis came in and took the job, that's my opinion. There's nothing from him that says 'Don't play me.' "
If the Dodgers can scratch third base off their off-season to-do list, they could concentrate their resources on adding a starting pitcher. Otherwise, their roster appears virtually set, with established everyday players at every other position. Cruz will earn the major-league minimum in 2013.
Mattingly compared Cruz to a couple of other late-blooming players from different eras: Casey Blake, who became an everyday player at 29, and Gary Ward, who established himself at 28. Cruz is 28.
Here are lineups for Saturday night's game:
Chris Nelson 3B
Andrew Brown LF
Matt McBride RF
D.J. LeMahieu 2B
Nick Punto 2B
Andre Ethier RF
Matt Kemp CF