Monday, March 7, 2011
Xavier Paul works on last chance in L.A.
By Tony Jackson
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There are two ways to look at the situation longtime Los Angeles Dodgers outfield prospect Xavier Paul is facing this spring. One is that Paul has used up all his minor league options after eight years in the organization, a fact that would seem to greatly increase his odds of beginning the season in the majors.
The other way of looking at it is the way Paul is looking at it.
"I would be lying if I said I haven't been pressing a little bit," Paul said. "I know this is my last chance to make this club. But the bottom line is, I'm going to go out and play hard and let the cards fall where they may."
For really the first time this spring, the cards fell in Paul's favor in the eighth inning of the Dodgers' Cactus League game on Monday, a 7-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies at a sparkling new facility called Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Facing veteran reliever Matt Belisle, the left-handed-hitting Paul yanked one onto the berm in right-center, his first home run of the spring and just his third hit.
Before that, Paul had struck out eight times in 17 plate appearances.
"I have been struggling a lot, so it felt pretty good to put a good swing on a ball," said Paul, who has been working extensively this spring with hitting coach Jeff Pentland. "We have been working on a few different things as far as my approach at the plate, tweaking my swing here and there and just trying to be a more consistent hitter. The most important thing Pent has taught me is that spring training is where you work on things, so you can't be worried about results right now."
Still, Paul admits he has been trying to impress new manager Don Mattingly, the coaching staff and the front office, and that might be part of the reason that even after hitting the home run and laying down a perfect sacrifice bunt in two plate appearances against the Rockies, he still is hitting just .214 this spring.
The harsh reality for Paul -- who has logged some big league time over the past two seasons but lost portions of each of those seasons to a severe foot infection (2009) and a bulging disc in his neck (2010) -- is that even with no options, it's tough to envision him as part of the Opening Day roster. No matter what kind of spring he has, the Dodgers don't appear to have an available roster spot for him.
Barring an injury to another player, the only way Paul can squeeze in is probably if the Dodgers decide to go with Jamey Carroll as their only backup infielder and keep six outfielders. They already have five outfielders on major league contracts: Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Jay Gibbons, Tony Gwynn and Marcus Thames. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said last week the club is likely to keep a second utility man.
"We're just kind of watching camp and seeing how it goes," Mattingly said. "We have always liked X-Paul. He swings the bat well, and he has a good stroke. He has been kind of snake-bitten the last few years [by the injuries], and the opportunities he has had have been limited by those. I think we need to let him play and see what happens."
Paul, 26, has a career minor league average of .290, including .320 over the past three seasons at Triple-A, but he has hit just .230 in 55 big league games. It would be easy to jump to the conclusion, then, that he is the proverbial "4A" player. But when you're talking about a backup outfielder who is solid defensively, sometimes that is good enough.
If the Dodgers don't keep Paul, they will be forced to put him on waivers, where he would stand at least a decent chance of being claimed by another club -- and that would mean Paul would begin the season in the big leagues, albeit in a different uniform. Only if he cleared waivers would the Dodgers be allowed to send him to Triple-A Albuquerque, and that would mean removing him from the 40-man roster.
There is a considerable contingent of major league scouts from various clubs at every spring training game, and you can safely assume Paul is one of the guys they are focusing on this year.
"As a player, you know there are always going to be 29 [other] teams looking at you," Paul said. "You never know what can happen or where you're going to end up. But right now, I am a Dodger, and this is the club I want to make.
"I have been bleeding Dodger blue for a long time, and I don't want to change now."
Ted Lilly finally made his first Cactus League start, five days after he was scratched because of illness and four days after he pitched two perfect innings in a "B" game. Lilly was solid and efficient, holding the Rockies to a run on three hits, and he threw so few pitches he was allowed to go back out for the start of the fourth inning and record one more out before turning the ball over to Mike MacDougal.
Lilly retired the first six batters he faced before getting into trouble in the third, when he gave up a leadoff double to Jose Morales, a run-scoring single to Hector Gomez and another single to Willy Taveras. But after Taveras was thrown out trying to steal, Lilly struck out Hernan Iribarren to end the inning. He then got Carlos Gonzalez, one of the National League's most dangerous hitters, to ground weakly to first to begin the fourth.
Carroll said he expects to return to the lineup Tuesday after being hit on his right hand by a pitch, which he fouled off, from Cincinnati's Jose Arredondo on Sunday. Carroll played the rest of that game, but later was sent for an X-ray, which was negative.
Jerry Sands, the Dodgers' reigning minor league player of the year, hit his second home run of the spring, a three-run, tiebreaking shot off Rockies right-hander Greg Reynolds in the sixth. Sands then barely missed another homer against Belisle in the eighth, settling for a triple off the wall in right-center. Sands is hitting .462 (6 for 13) for the spring.
Tim Redding, who last pitched in the majors for the New York Mets in 2009 and whom the Dodgers signed this winter primarily to provide starting depth at Albuquerque, no-hit the Rockies for three innings to earn the win. An eight-year, big-league veteran who has logged time with five teams, Redding, 33, has pitched eight shutout innings in three appearances so far this spring.
The Dodgers (4-7), who have struggled to score throughout the spring, surpassed their previous high of six, which they scored against the Chicago White Sox on Feb. 28. They play the Milwaukee Brewers at the Maryvale complex on Tuesday, with right-hander John Ely scheduled to start against former Dodgers closer Takashi Saito, who likely will leave after one inning. Hiroki Kuroda will take his regular turn in the Dodgers rotation in a "B" game against a team of Seattle Mariners minor leaguers at Camelback Ranch.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.