Blake gives Dodgers versatility in order

Blake gives LA versatility in order

DENVER -- Before every game, Casey Blake's routine is to ride a bike or run a treadmill and loosen his legs before hitting in the batting cages.

Blake's position in the batting order is hardly routine. After batting eighth for 30 games this season and seventh for eight games, Blake hit cleanup on Tuesday night -- for the third straight game. In the two previous games, Blake went 5-for-11 with four runs scored.

It remains to be seen if Dodgers manager Joe Torre will keep Blake there until Manny Ramirez returns from his 50-game suspension. But if Torre keeps seeing production from Blake, who has rebounded from his slow start, it may not matter where he hits.

"He's been working with [batting coach] Don Mattingly on an approach which keeps him flatter through the strike zone, which means you stay in the hitting zone longer," Torre said. "He's taken to it. He'll swing and miss at balls, but then he's sort of able to adjust to it, and he's hitting so many more balls the [opposite] way this year than he did last year."

Blake doesn't care if he's hitting cleanup or in front of the pitcher as long as he's in the lineup. Blake appreciates his opportunities because it was long in the making. He made his debut on Aug. 14, 1999 -- nine days short of his 26th birthday.

"Early in my career, when I wasn't an established player in the big leagues, I knew I wasn't going to be in the lineup usually," Blake said. "But each day, I kind of checked to see if I was in there. That wasn't too much fun. It's nice to know that I'm going to be in the lineup every day."

Blake's attitude isn't just about himself. He believes any Dodgers player can hit anywhere in the lineup, with Juan Pierre hitting cleanup the exception. That attitude explains why the Dodgers have scored a higher run average without Ramirez (5.88) than with him (5.55).

"I can definitely hit ninth," Blake said. "I've led off before, so I think I can hit leadoff. You don't have to be a speed demon to leadoff, but I can probably do it."

Cheng Sio is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.