MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Revitalized Crawford eager to reinvent himself

Revitalized Crawford eager to reinvent himself

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Carl Crawford is a four-time All-Star with Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards on his resume. The 2009 All-Star Game Most Valuable Player, representing the Rays, he is the Major Leagues' active leader in triples and ranks third in steals, having led the American League four times in each category.

He is 31, coming off Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, and getting close to playing baseball again with a renewed purpose for the Dodgers. In the next few days, he figures to be the designated hitter in a Cactus League game, and not long after that he intends to take his place in left field, determined to reward his new team for its faith in his explosive talents.

The frustrations and disappointments of a season and a half in Boston have given Carl Demonte Crawford something to prove.

"Hopefully, we can make [people] remember what I can do," Crawford said on Tuesday morning in the Dodgers' springtime clubhouse. "They forget quick.

"I'm hungry. I'm looking forward to playing with these guys, just being out there. I can use all my tools again -- running, being aggressive, getting back to my game.

"I'm getting a fresh start, a chance to clear my mind after the last two years. I'm getting a lot of bad toxins out of my system."

He knows there's nothing to be gained from dwelling on all the negativity that hit him in Boston when he was hurt and unable to fulfill the expectations of a huge free-agent contract.

He hit just .260 in 161 games for the Red Sox -- 32 points off his career average -- and never managed to get comfortable with any of it: the media, the external pressures, Fenway Park's confining dimensions, a different approach to the game.

"In Boston, the focus is on trying to hit the three-run home run," Crawford said. "Now I'm going to get back to my style. I'm excited about that. And the talent here is definitely something to be excited about."

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly played with the great Rickey Henderson in New York and knows how a freewheeling force can drive a lineup. Crawford appreciates Mattingly's way of running things.

"Over here, you just take care of your own business," Crawford said. "I needed that to get myself ready. I might not flow with the traditional way to do things, but it's 2013. Some old things need to change."

The Dodgers acquired Crawford along with Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto in a Aug. 25 blockbuster with the Red Sox, who got five players in exchange.

Crawford is owed $101.5 million over the next five seasons. A brilliant high school athlete in Houston who could have been a Nebraska quarterback or a Division I shooting guard, he signed with the Rays as a second-round pick in 1999 and was in the big time three years later.

He flourished with Tampa Bay, hitting second in a lineup that featured Evan Longoria. But Crawford, who never has been around the depth of offensive thunder the Dodgers can generate with Matt Kemp, Gonzalez, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez, could roar past his career-high 110 runs scored in 2010.

"We've got a lot of weapons," Crawford said. "I'm looking forward to playing with Matt and Andre in the outfield. When you're around good outfielders, it raises your game."

The projected lineup has Crawford leading off, and that -- contrary to word of mouth and speculation -- is no problem at all for Carl. He has as tutors in camp Maury Wills and Davey Lopes, two of the premier catalysts of previous generations.

"I have to retrain my body," Crawford said, grinning, when asked about the prospect of running free on the bases again. He has stolen at least 50 bases five times with a high of 60 in 2009. He had 47 steals in 2010 before slipping to a total of 23 in Boston.

Lopes and Wills, he said, have been communicating their abundant wisdom in the arts of leading off and running the bases.

"I read the other day a comment by someone in the game that 'everybody knows Crawford hates to lead off,'" Crawford said. "That's not true. I want to lead off for that reason. I hate it when people who have never even talked to me say stuff like that.

"Managers have always put me in the two-hole. They talk about leading me off, and I'm fine with that. I might have to change my approach a little bit, but I'll still try to be selective and aggressive, too."

Crawford has a .284/.319/.415 line in 374 career starts as a leadoff man, compared to .302/.345/.460 batting second 630 times.

Second baseman Mark Ellis has extensive experience in the No. 2 spot. Ramirez could be another option, but he figures to hit in the heart of the order with Kemp, Gonzalez and Ethier.

A healthy Crawford is as good as it gets in left field. He's thrilled by the prospect of playing at Dodger Stadium, with its grass surface and expansive dimensions, after laboring on Tampa Bay's artificial turf and Boston's cozy left field.

"That's wonderful for me, for my future," Crawford said. "I don't think I could play on turf anymore."

After wearing No. 13, Ramirez's number, most of his career, Crawford is taking No. 25 in Los Angeles. It befits an extraordinary athlete making a fresh start, driven by a desire to show he's still one of the best.

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