Thursday, February 24, 2011
Updated: February 25, 11:32 AM ET
Casey Blake doesn't want to sit
By Tony Jackson
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Casey Blake was sitting in a chair in front of his locker in the Los Angeles Dodgers' clubhouse Thursday morning. Amazingly enough the chair wasn't rocking.
"I feel good," the veteran third baseman said. "This was a fun offseason. I have always been kind of all over the map as far as my workouts go. In the past, I always worked out by myself, and it's tough to push yourself that way. This year, for the first time, I worked out with a partner, somebody to kind of hold me accountable, and it was pretty good."
That partner was a former football player from Simpson College in Blake's hometown of Indianola, Iowa, which is where the workouts took place. All of those intense sessions might not have taken the ever-creeping gray out of Blake's famous beard, but rumors he is ready to be put out to be pasture appear to have been greatly exaggerated.
To hear Blake tell it, the notion that he needs a couple of days off a week -- an idea general manager Ned Colletti seemed to take into consideration as he was retooling the roster over the winter and an idea manager Don Mattingly has been advancing all spring -- also has been greatly exaggerated.
"I talked to Donnie a little bit," Blake said. "He told me they have kind of a tentative plan. I guess it's designed to keep me healthy and keep me strong throughout the whole season, but nobody really knows the answer to that. I told him basically that I want to play every day. Hopefully, the first few weeks or the first couple of months will just be kind of trial-and-error, but I don't want a day off just to take a day off. I think there has to be a reason behind it, like maybe if I have been scuffling for a couple of days.
"I don't necessarily even want to take off a day game after a night game. If I'm swinging the bat well, I want to be in there."
Blake, who will turn 38 in August, is entering what probably will be his final year with the Dodgers, the last season of a three-year, $18 million contract. Although his batting average last year (.248) fell 32 points from the previous year, he was still reasonably productive at the plate and a reliable presence at third. He had 28 doubles and 16 home runs, both of which were close to the median for his career.
The Dodgers signed free-agent infielder Juan Uribe over the winter to a three-year, $21 million contract primarily to be their everyday second baseman. But Uribe's versatility -- he also can play third and short -- was a plus, and Colletti saw it as a way to get occasional rest for Blake and shortstop Rafael Furcal. But Blake also has experience at first base and in right field, where he was the primary starter for the Cleveland Indians in 2005 and 2006. So it also could be Blake who is used at times to give other guys a day off.
"It wasn't so much about what we have in mind for him," Mattingly said of his meeting with Blake. "It was really more about his work areas" for on-field workouts. "I want him to do enough work in the outfield that he is comfortable there."
Blake said he didn't notice getting any more tired than usual toward the end of last season despite getting older. He did concede the lack of adrenaline a player gets from chasing a playoff spot took a toll on him mentally and that he might have noticed the usual fatigue more because the Dodgers had little to play for in the final weeks.
"I told Donnie, I said, 'Look, I understand where I am in my career,' " Blake said. "I said, 'I hope you're not holding anything back from me or hesitating to tell me something that you feel you need to tell me. I know where I'm at, I still feel I can play every day, and I still want to play every day.' He said, 'No. 1, I think you're one of the best defensive third basemen out there.' But he told me he might use me at some other spots, like if [right fielder] Andre [Ethier] or maybe [first baseman] James [Loney] needs a day off.
"But he did say he doesn't see me as a super-utility guy, which is good because I still want to be thought of as the everyday third baseman."
Broxton goes live
Embattled Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton threw live batting practice for the first time this spring to a group that included Loney, Ethier and outfielders Matt Kemp and Marcus Thames. Pitchers, who usually start throwing weeks before reporting to camp, tend this time of year to be way ahead of hitters, most of whom haven't faced major league pitching since last fall, so it's difficult to judge a pitcher's stuff based on that.
Mattingly has said repeatedly Broxton is his closer, and he usually doesn't bite whenever someone asks him about alternatives. Still, it's no secret that Broxton probably has to get off to a good start when the season begins to keep the job long-term.
Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said the right thing for Broxton right now, early in camp, is to get back to the basics of pitching.
"For a lot of guys with power fastballs, you start there and then work into everything else," Honeycutt said. "I remember [Hall of Famer Nolan] Ryan, he would start just throwing his fastball, then once he got a feel for that, he would start throwing his secondary pitches off that great fastball. It's the same with Brox. He needs to get comfortable with that four-seam fastball, get his delivery down, get his extension back and work from there."
Kuroda to start Cactus opener
Honeycutt said Hiroki Kuroda will start against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday, when the Dodgers kick off their Cactus League season with a split-squad doubleheader. Non-roster invitee Tim Redding will start the other game against the San Francisco Giants, with both pitchers loosely slated to go two innings.
John Ely and Jon Link will then pitch the first four innings of Sunday's home opener against the Angels, after which Honeycutt said the Dodgers will fall into their regular-season rotation beginning Monday against the Chicago White Sox: Clayton Kershaw against the White Sox; Chad Billingsley on Tuesday against the Cleveland Indians; Ted Lilly on Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals; Kuroda on Thursday against the Giants; and Jon Garland on Friday against the Reds.
Barring something unforeseen, this is how the five starters will line up when the season begins, with Kershaw, Billingsley, Lilly and Kuroda starting the season-opening, four-game series against the Giants March 31-April 3.
The Dodgers have off days April 4 and 7 bookended around a two-game series at Colorado. Asked if the fifth starter is less likely to be skipped when the schedule permits now that the Dodgers have the rare luxury of having a fifth starter like Garland, an established veteran who pitched 200 innings last year, Honeycutt was non-committal.
"We'll see at the start of the season," he said. "Our main plan right now is just to get everybody as healthy as possible."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. Follow him on Twitter.