(Photo Credit: mlb.com)
Having pulled away from the Padres with an 8-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Dodgers wasted no time in making their first substitution of the 2016 campaign on Monday, moving left fielder Carl Crawford to the bench in favor of the versatile Trayce Thompson.
It seems like every other word uttered about the Dodgers these days is “depth.” Sure, the Dodgers are very deep in terms of having a very talented organizational pool of players, however, the number of seasoned veterans on the field with both fine leadership skills and World Series experience are few and far between.
While with Tampa Bay, Crawford averaged a whopping 146 games played and 640 plate appearances per season during a stretch from 2003-2010. In contrast, last season was his fourth consecutive year interrupted by a significant injury, having torn his oblique muscle in April.
With outfielder Andre Ethier already on the shelf for a minimum of 10 weeks, manager Dave Roberts and the remainder of the Dodgers staff have reshifted their focus to do everything within their power to keep Crawford healthy.
“I think he’s mindful of where he’s at. He understands his role on the team, and knows he’s not going to play 140 games for us. It’s my job to monitor his health,” Roberts told Eric Stephen of True Blue LA.
“He’s told me numerous times he’ll do whatever I ask of him, and that’s always good to hear from a veteran player. When he plays and he’s healthy, he performs. He’s always been like that. We have to be mindful to keep him fresh.”
Many Dodgers fans have been constantly critical of Crawford, often emphasizing how they wished he had been traded rather than fan favorite Matt Kemp during the 2014-15 offseason. But with a history of injuries and a salary with an AAV of $21.7 million, that task remains a challenge for any party involved.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman believes he hit the nail on the head by labeling Crawford as an “overachiever” when it comes to offseason workouts and game preparation.
“He has incredible work ethic,” Friedman told Andy McCullough of the LA Times. “And one can argue he works too much. So it’s just really talking through and documenting the volume of work to try to be proactive.”
Whatever documentation Friedman presented to the 34-year-old outfielder apparently sunk in, as Crawford himself admitted the need of slowing down, even if it contradicts his own personal philosophies that have gotten him this far as a professional.
“It’s hard trying to figure it out, because your whole life you’ve been taught to just work hard, work hard, work hard,” Crawford said. “And now you’re getting to a point where your body can’t take it as much, and you have to tone back. That’s what you have to learn how to do, because you’ve never had to tone back.”
Heading into Opening Day, Crawford said he was one hundred percent healthy and is prepared to contribute in whatever capacity the Dodgers need.
After the timetable of Ethier’s recovery time was finally determined, Roberts indicated he plans to utilize Crawford primarily as a starter in left field against right-handed pitching, and in some cases as a lefty pinch-hitter off the bench in late inning situations — all the while making sure he gets the necessary rest when required.
Last season Crawford hit .265/.304/.403 with four home runs and 16 RBI over 193 plate appearances. His banner year came in 2010 when he slashed .307/.356/.495 with 110 runs scored, 30 doubles, 13 triples, 19 home runs, 90 RBI and 47 stolen bases.