Rehabbing Crawford cheers Dodgers from afar

Rehabbing Crawford cheers Dodgers from afar

LOS ANGELES -- While the Dodgers' lineup of stars struggles to score, Carl Crawford rehabs in Houston, the player to be played later.

Except for an occasional text from Matt Kemp, Crawford learns about his new team by watching the games from his living room and imagining what it will be like when he's in the lineup next year. One day after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, he was the $100-million throw-in to the Dodgers-Red Sox nine-player blockbuster.

"I can be a throw-in, whatever they want to call me," said Crawford. "At the end of the day, we'll see who the throw-in is."

A four-time All-Star with Tampa Bay, Crawford chose Boston over the Angels and signed a seven-year, $142 million contract. But two seasons in Boston were so disappointing that he apologized to fans for his 2011 play and waived a no-trade clause this summer for a fresh start with the Dodgers.

"It was a big surprise," Crawford said of the trade. "I was at home watching SportsCenter and saw my name across the bottom of the screen. At first, I didn't think it was true. Then I started to get calls and realized there was something to it and my agent called and I knew it was true. I'm still a little in disbelief right now, to be honest. Shocked about the whole thing. I'll believe it when I'm actually in Dodger Stadium."

That won't come until next year. It was decided that Crawford and the Dodgers would be better served if he continued his therapy in his hometown while the Dodgers continued their uphill battle for a National League Wild Card berth without an extra cheerleader on the bench.

"Right now, I'm all by myself," he said. "I understand what's going on. I watch the games every night and try to learn how I could fit into that lineup. You're always going to have little hurdles. A new league, new pitchers. I've got a lot of learning to do."

First he's got healing to do, and he said that part is going well.

"The doctor said I'm recovering at a fast pace," he said. "I don't know exactly when it will be all the way healed."

In addition to the elbow, Crawford has dealt with chronic left wrist issues that required surgery in January to debride cartilage, a common surgery for arthritic patients.

"It gets inflamed from time to time and is just something to deal with," he said. "I'm hoping if the elbow gets strong, it will take the pressure off the wrist. The elbow has bothered me for over a year. I definitely feel once I'm done with the rehab, I'll be back to my old self."

If Crawford is ready by May 1, the Dodgers will be pleased. The fact that they owe him roughly $100 million for the next five seasons makes it almost unthinkable that they'd bring back Shane Victorino, as Crawford sooner or later will be the left fielder, forming an all-All-Star, all-Gold Glove, all-Silver Slugger outfield with Kemp and Andre Ethier.

"I definitely look at it and see the potential with this kind of lineup that we can all pick up each other," said the 31-year-old. "I've talked to Matt about it. He wants to win a championship so bad. His enthusiasm makes me want to come out and play and do it for him. I've worked with Andre at API [training center in Arizona] for years. It will be exciting to be playing with superstars like Kemp, with the new ownership there. I'm looking forward to a new opportunity and to erase all the bad stuff from the last couple of years."

Crawford's skill set of speed (four stolen-base titles), power and .292 career average qualifies him best to bat first or second. The Dodgers first must decide whether Luis Cruz or Dee Gordon joins Hanley Ramirez on the left side of the infield. For much of his career, Crawford has drawn comparisons to Rickey Henderson, although his offensive stats are more like those of Roberto Clemente.

"It's hard to compare to a historical iconic figure," Crawford said.

In Boston, the comparisons weren't so kind. The fans were tough on Crawford and he didn't blame them.

"I hate to make excuses," Crawford said. "My thing is, point blank, if you don't play well, everything goes bad for you. I didn't play well, didn't play up to expectations. You sign for $140 million and don't play well -- that's a recipe for disaster. That's what happened. Hopefully, I'll come to L.A. with a clean slate."

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