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Crawford 'confident' he'll be ready for Opening Day

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On the day pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, perhaps the biggest question mark in the Dodgers' clubhouse Tuesday was an outfielder.

And not Matt Kemp, who is already taking batting practice on the rebound from October shoulder surgery.

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Carl Crawford, though, is not as far along in his recovery from August Tommy John surgery on his left (throwing) elbow. He's throwing up to 90 feet, hitting off a tee and hopes to graduate in the next few days to live pitching, which Kemp did weeks ago.

Crawford said he's "confident" he'll be ready by Opening Day, depending on what the Dodgers "want to see."

"I think I can hit the cutoff man, but I don't know if that's where they want me to come back," he said. "I think I'm an everyday guy, but I understand the thought of easing me back in."

Crawford said he has no pain in his elbow, "just typical muscle fatigue," and that his arthritic left wrist hasn't given him trouble, but "it's something to stay on top of throughout the season."

The Dodgers picked up $100 million of Boston Red Sox commitment to Crawford in last summer's blockbuster trade that also brought Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto. Crawford's contract deal has five years left on it.

Manager Don Mattingly said he's prepared to platoon Jerry Hairston and Skip Schumaker in left field at the start of the season rather than rush Crawford before he's ready.

Most likely, Crawford would bat leadoff for the Dodgers, even though he's hit second most of his Major League career. That has led to a reputation -- which Crawford said is unwarranted -- that he doesn't like batting leadoff.

"I don't know where that came from," he said. "I play where the manager puts me. I played for Lou Piniella, and you can't tell him where to hit you. Leadoff was the only place I ever hit in the Minor Leagues, but I got to the big leagues and it switched. I was 20 and I couldn't ask questions. I just hit. Now that [reputation] has been with me for 10 years because somebody said I don't like it."

Wherever he bats, Crawford is just looking forward to a fresh start after two lost seasons in Boston, and he said there's "definitely a different feel" after one day in the Dodgers' clubhouse. Crawford, a four-time All-Star with Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in Tampa Bay, signed a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox after the 2010 season.

What followed were the worst offensive season of his career in 2011 and the most painful one in '12, leading to fan and media criticism, then the trade.

"It was very frustrating," Crawford said. "I didn't play to expectations, pretty much failed for the first time in my life. It was the toughest challenge I ever had. A lot of times, I did [have regrets signing with Boston]. All the talk was about how much money I wanted. I just wondered if I made the right decision. At the end of the day, it's behind me and I try to move forward."

He said he'd like to think he's "that [All-Star] player again," but concedes even he has had doubts.

"I don't like to make excuses. For whatever reason, it didn't go as planned," he said. "I had a confidence problem during that time. You start to have problems and you have less confidence. I think I'm at a place where I feel a lot better about myself, like the player I once was. There was definitely a dark cloud over me.

"But I saw Adrian going through it, he was still having a good year, and with my struggles, it wouldn't get better for me. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, and it put me in a depressive stage. I feel a lot better with the trade now."

He concedes he didn't think there was any chance of getting out of "the toxic environment" in Boston, that no team would be willing to pick up an injured player and the $100 million commitment with him.

"I didn't think a trade like that would ever happen," he said. "I started to say, 'Is this ever going to end?'"

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