Carl Crawford faces competition

CINCINNATI - Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford has had a relatively smooth recovery from a sprained left ankle and, under normal circumstances, he could have returned from the disabled list shortly after the Dodgers return from a seven-game road trip next weekend.

But Crawford said the competition for at-bats with Matt Kemp has prompted him to seek out a minor-league rehabilitation assignment, a rare request for a veteran player.

"I'm in a situation where I can't afford to come back rusty," Crawford said. "I've got to make sure I'm on point. You never know, you could have a few bad games and we all know what's going to happen then. I don't know if I'm going to be playing again when I come back. I don't know what my situation's going to be. The rotation is basically putting us in a situation where we have to be on point when we get in the game."

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly pulled Kemp out of center field after a particularly rough defensive game in New York and, since that May 22 game, Kemp has played exclusively in left field. While Crawford has been out, Kemp has started 11 games in left and batted .220 with no home runs, five RBIs and 11 strikeouts.

"I don't mind at all getting him some [minor-league] at bats. The one thing we don't want him to do is come back and struggle and have to try to find himself," said Mattingly, referring to Crawford. "We don't have that luxury right now, to wait 5-6 days for a guy to get comfortable. We'd like him to be comfortable when he gets back or as close as he can be."

The problem with a Kemp-Crawford platoon is that Kemp this season has hit worse against left-handed pitchers (.167) than right-handed pitchers (.298), a departure from his career norm.

Crawford was sailing along in his rehab before experiencing some pain in the ankle during a recent workout. He has yet to run the bases, confining his running to straight-ahead sprints on the outfield grass. He admitted to some concern about the outfield rotation when he does get healthy now that Kemp has moved positions and Yasiel Puig has established himself as an everyday player by batting .335.

The Dodgers have no plans to use Crawford in center field, meaning it now appears to be a two-man rotation of Kemp and Crawford when he returns.

"That's just the way it goes. They tell us one thing and then something else happens, so you can't just go by what's being said," Crawford said. "You have to just wait to see which guy is struggling and wait for our turn to play, you know?

"It's been frustrating for all of us, but we have to be men about the situation and accept what's going on and try to do what's best for the team and be ready when it's time. There's nothing we can do about it."