GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers arrived at spring training with just one major question mark in their everyday lineup. It looks as if they will leave Arizona still looking for answers.
Cuban defector Alex Guerrero signed a four-year, $28 million contract, and the Dodgers anticipated making him their primary second baseman in 2014. An All-Star shortstop in Cuba, Guerrero reported early to Arizona and began working on the transition to a new position.
With a week left before the Dodgers break camp and travel to Australia for a two-game opening to their regular season, Guerrero had not seized the position. In fact, he was getting outplayed by another converted shortstop, Dee Gordon, in every way.
"He needs to play," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said of Guerrero, who did not play in the year before his defection and was limited in winter ball by hamstring issues. "We see the ability. We need to see the consistency."
Manager Don Mattingly has said he would have no problems filling the vacancy at second base with a platoon. In addition to Guerrero and Gordon, Chone Figgins, Justin Turner and Brendan Harris are vying for playing time at second base and a utility role on the Dodgers' bench to open the season.
Guerrero's contract allows the Dodgers to send him to the minors in 2014. After this season, though, they would need his permission to option him. That opens up the possibility that Guerrero could open the season in Triple-A, getting more comfortable at second base and further knocking the rust off his offensive game.
"I don't think now's the time to talk about where he's going to end up," Mattingly said. "Now we're still competing for a job.
"The plan for him is to get as many at-bats as possible while we're getting other guys ready also and giving them opportunities. At this point, we're happy with Alex and the way he's working and going about his business. We'll see where it goes."
--OF Matt Kemp got seven at-bats in a minor league intrasquad game March 8, the latest step forward in his recovery from October ankle surgery. Kemp went hitless but would not have stayed in the game to run the bases had he reached. He did not play defense.
--LHP Clayton Kershaw will start the first of the Dodgers' two games against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia. LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu will start the second game. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly announced his starting pitching choices for the historic series at Sydney Cricket Grounds.
--OF Yasiel Puig tore up the Cactus League a year ago, batting .517 with three home runs. He has not been the same force of nature this spring. Through March 9, he was batting .200 (4-for-20) and dealing with some inflammation in his upper back/shoulder blade area.
--RHP Zack Greinke was scheduled to throw a bullpen session March 10, and he could pitch in a game later in the week. Greinke had not pitched in a game since leaving his first spring start after only four pitches with a mild calf strain. Greinke likely will not make the trip to Australia, and he could open the season on the disabled list.
--RHP Ross Stripling, one of the Dodgers' top pitching prospects, tore a ligament in his elbow and will undergo Tommy John surgery later this month. Stripling already underwent an elbow operation to remove loose bodies from the joint. He will have the Tommy John surgery after inflammation and swelling from that procedure subsides. Stripling will miss the entire 2014 season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Any time you get to start Opening Day, no matter what continent it's on, that's pretty cool. That's definitely an honor." -- Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw after being named the Dodgers' starter for the first of their two games in Australia.
LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP Zack Greinke
LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu
RHP Dan Haren
RHP Josh Beckett
The Dodgers' starting pitchers had the lowest collective ERA in the majors last season (3.13). More of the same is expected from two-time Cy Young Award winner Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu.
The back of the rotation is more of a question. Haren looked rejuvenated in the second half of 2013 with the Washington Nationals and the Dodgers are counting on that continuing. Beckett is returning from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome and will get the first shot at filling the fifth starter's spot. The schedule will allow him ample time to recover (the Dodgers won't need a fifth starter until April 19 if they choose). But the Dodgers added free-agent LHP Paul Maholm as an alternative if Beckett cannot return. Chad Billingsley (Tommy John recovery) is pegged for a May or June return, possibly giving the Dodgers another alternative.
RHP Kenley Jansen (closer)
RHP Brian Wilson
RHP Chris Perez
LHP J.P. Howell
RHP Jamey Wright
RHP Brandon League
LHP Paco Rodriguez
Wilson and Howell unexpectedly re-signed after reaching free agency last fall, giving the Dodgers potentially the deepest bullpen in the National League. Young arms like Chris Withrow, Jose Dominguez, Yimi Garcia, Pedro Baez and Onelki Garcia will be one step away, ready as fill-ins should any of the front-line relievers stumble -- or could be used as midseason trade chips.
Wilson, Perez and League give the Dodgers three former All-Star closers -- and none of them will be closing. That role remains Jansen's. Wilson and Perez will work as his setup men, getting only the occasional save opportunity to prevent overwork for Jansen.
1. RF Yasiel Puig
2. LF Carl Crawford
3. SS Hanley Ramirez
4. 1B Adrian Gonzalez
5. 3B Juan Uribe
6. CF Andre Ethier
7. C A.J. Ellis
8. 2B Alex Guerrero
Two mysteries need to be solved before manager Don Mattingly starts writing out lineups in games that count. When will Matt Kemp be ready to play? Is Alex Guerrero ready to make the jump to the majors?
Kemp is not likely to be recovered from shoulder and ankle surgeries in time to play in Australia and could miss more time after that. When he does return, though, the Dodgers will have a dilemma -- how to play four everyday outfielders? It could create admirable depth in the lineup and the roster. But it could also create unwelcome tension and on-going drama over playing time.
Guerrero, meanwhile, was signed for $28 million over four years after defecting from Cuba last year. The Dodgers expect him to be their primary second baseman. But Guerrero was almost exclusively a shortstop in Cuba and there are questions about how much of his offensive production will translate in the majors.
TOP ROOKIES: 2B Alex Guerrero is the only rookie who figures to play a significant role for the Dodgers this year -- and he's hardly your typical rookie. Guerrero is 27 years old and a two-time All-Star in Cuba's Serie Nacionale. Beyond Guerrero, a handful of pitchers could see action as rookies if the Dodgers dip into their pitching depth. LHP Onelki Garcia and RHP Jose Dominguez saw some big-league action last year. The Dodges might have to turn to RHP Zach Lee, RHP Ross Stripling or LHP Chris Reed if their front five suffers injuries.
--RHP Zack Greinke (mild right calf strain) left his Feb. 27 start with the injury. There is a chance he will start the season on the disabled list.
--OF Matt Kemp (left shoulder and left ankle surgeries in October 2013) resumed running in early March, and he played in a minor league intrasquad game March 8.
--RHP Chad Billingsley (Tommy John surgery in April 2013) was throwing bullpen sessions in late February, and he mixed in curveballs for the first time March 1. He is targeting a return in May or June.
--LHP Scott Elbert (Tommy John surgery in June 2013, appendectomy in January 2014) went on the 60-day disabled list Feb. 8. He is not expected back until midseason after his third elbow surgery in less than two years.
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