GLENDALE, AZ— Don’t tell Carl Crawford he can’t do something — unless you like to be proven wrong.
Crawford made his first spring training appearance of the Cactus League season, going 0-3 in an 11-1 Dodgers’ split-squad win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Camelback Ranch.
Afterward, he said he thinks he’ll prove his detractors mistaken and be in the lineup on Opening Day April 1 against the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
“I really think so,” he said after a quick workout following his stint as the Dodgers’ designated hitter. “I played today and I didn’t think I’d be playing (so soon). Hopefully we won’t have any setbacks, and if everything goes well I should be in the lineup.”
Don Mattingly also feels his new left fielder has cleared the final hurdle to being able to open the season on time.
“Carl’s fine,” the Dodger manager said enthusiastically. “Really it’s just about getting that process going and keep him going in the right direction. We also have to keep getting him at bats, because he’s a little behind the rest of the team.
“If everything continues the way it is, he’ll be there for us.”
In his first L.A. at bat that actually meant something, the outfielder — who was acquired last Aug. 25 in a blockbuster deal with Boston — popped out to center field. In his next two chances he grounded out to shortstop, ending his day going hitless.
Crawford had already played in a number of minor league contests, but said that a real game situation had all the juices flowing as he stepped in to face Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo.
“I was definitely breathing a little harder during that first at bat,” Crawford said. “But if you’re not nervous, you’re not ready.”
Carl Crawford is always ready.
Since reporting to Glendale, Crawford has been the first player to camp at around 5:30 am and usually one of the last to leave the complex. Catcher A.J. Ellis compares him favorably to another intense former Dodger, who was one of the most popular players on the team.
“His work ethic definitely reminds me of Juan Pierre,” Ellis said of his former teammate. “Juan used to show up here at 5:30 in the morning and just keep working all throughout the day. The level of determination Carl has is remarkable, just like Juan’s was.”
Of course, Crawford is coming off two major surgeries in the last year — one to his wrist and Tommy John surgery on his left elbow just two days before he became a Dodger. And the former Tampa Bay Rays’ and Red Sox player has never been know for having a strong throwing arm. But with Crawford joining Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the outfield, Dodger pitchers can be sure that if they can keep the ball in the park, most of the fly balls they give up will be caught.
“Carl is an incredible talent for us, and all we have to do is make sure he stays healthy,” 2011 National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw said. “He doesn’t have to throw a lot of guys out, he just has to hit his cutoff man. If he can do that — with the type of offense he brings us — he’s going to be very exciting to have here.
“Overall, we have a great outfield. Andre may be the best. He gets great jumps on the ball because he really works at getting better. Matt and Carl just have that natural athletic talent, and with the hard work all three of those guys put in, (the pitching staff) is definitely going to benefit from their defensive abilities.”
One of the hardest working players in baseball, Crawford — a four-time All Star and .292 career hitter — knows he has to be practical during his rehab, which is why he’ll get some more DH at-bats before playing in the field. And he’s fine with the Dodger medical staff’s plan for him.
“I’m not able to throw like I want to yet,” he said, “so (letting loose) is going to be on my mind a little bit. But at the end of the day, when they go out and let me play, I won’t be thinking about my arm or anything like that. I’ll be thinking about getting hits, not about my elbow.”