MIAMI -- With 29-year-old Hanley Ramirez getting Thursday off, manager Don Mattingly had 35-year-old Nick Punto starting at shortstop, and Mattingly said he's fine with that.
"My theory is, Chihuahuas live longer than bigger dogs," Mattingly joked. "They stay faster longer. Little dogs live longer."
It's rare for a player who sees increased playing time at shortstop when he reaches his mid-30s. Usually, that's the time veterans are moved off the position.
But Punto is an exception. He will play more games at shortstop than any other position this year for the first time since 2008. Punto might have seemed a throw-in to last year's blockbuster that also brought Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers from Boston, but that's not the way Mattingly sees it now.
"I don't know if we really knew what we had when we got Nick," said Mattingly. "He didn't play all that much with Boston and he had been hurt. But to see him in Spring Training and to use him with what we had to do early this year, we've seen him play everywhere. He doesn't throw a ball away, knock on wood. He's just solid. He's got range and he's still moving good."
Punto credits his longevity to an offseason regimen of biometric conditioning that emphasizes speed and agility as much as strength.
"The training is more intense than when I first got to the Major Leagues," Punto said. "I feel I do a really good job in the offseason. I could play every day if I had to. Shortstop is the most demanding position and I take pride that I can still play it."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.