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Role on bench doesn't get Carroll down

Role on bench doesn't get Carroll down

Role on bench doesn't get Carroll down
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If you led the club last year in on-base percentage, had a higher batting average than Matt Kemp or James Loney or Casey Blake, played more games than Rafael Furcal, and the team went out and signed Juan Uribe to put you on the bench, would you be bitter?

Jamey Carroll thinks he's good enough to play every day. But bitter he's not a starter after a fine season?

No, he was bitter the last time it happened.

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"I hit .300 in 2006 and thought I deserved to start the next year, but I learned that when you do that, all you do is set yourself up for disappointment," Carroll said of a similar experience with Colorado. "I kind of learned to just come in every year ready for anything but not expecting anything."

Expectations for Carroll last year were modest. In fact, some wondered why the Dodgers would sign a bench player to a two-year, guaranteed contract for $3.85 million (plus $200,000 in earned plate-appearance bonuses).

He wound up, in the eyes of some, their most valuable position player. He hit .291, played four positions, battled through a broken fingertip and was named winner of the Roy Campanella Award for exemplifying the spirit and leadership of the Hall of Fame catcher.

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He led the team with a .379 on-base percentage, had the highest batting average (.291) after the All-Star break when many of his teammates foundered, hit .326 with runners in scoring position and kept the team afloat with his steady play filling in at shortstop for Rafael Furcal, who went on the disabled list twice.

But there would be no starting job in 2011 for a reward. Instead, the Dodgers traded second baseman Ryan Theriot, signed Juan Uribe for $21 million for three years to be the starting second baseman and put Carroll back into the role of utility man for which he was signed.

Carroll has seen this before.

"Kaz Matsui was released by the Mets in 2006 and we signed him," said Carroll, who opened his best offensive season with the Rockies that year. "I don't know why they signed him. I didn't ask. I thought I had been playing well, but I wasn't going to be that guy [to ask why]. I just figured it was what they wanted to do and I just played.

"But the next year, I struggled with it at the beginning. I was disappointed and I came out trying to prove they were wrong and I learned quickly. I hit .225 that year. I had a terrible start and had to fight my way out of it. I just learned it's a waste of time. They're in charge. They make the decisions. I'm a guy on the team, you know? All I concern myself with is coming out and being ready. The other way, it just took me out of my game. Trying to use that for motivation, for me it didn't work. I've spent too much time in the big leagues to worry about that kind of stuff now."

Whether it's his size (5-9, 170) or steady demeanor, Carroll has been underestimated despite a career of being fundamentally solid, tough and durable. Even though they share Evansville, Ind., for a hometown, it took new manager Don Mattingly to watch Carroll on a daily basis to fully appreciate him as a player.

"I was surprised how good he was," Mattingly admitted. "He's from my hometown and I didn't realize how good he is. He's one of those guys in that category, the more you see of, the more you realize how really good they are."

Carroll and Mattingly became familiar on the banquet circuit several years ago raising money for sports programs in Evansville. Even if Carroll would prefer a different role, his early reviews of Mattingly the manager are all positive.

"When he speaks, you know he knows what he's talking about," said Carroll. "He has huge respect from the players. They listen to what he says. He says it with meaning and with passion and you know he believes in you as a player. It will be fun playing for him this year."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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