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07/19/08 8:36 PM ET

DeWitt makes his case on defense

Third baseman stays in lineup despite struggles at plate

PHOENIX -- When the D-backs' Augie Ojeda smashed a ball to third with a runner at third and two outs Friday night in a tied game in the bottom of the ninth, Dodgers third baseman Blake DeWitt knew the game and first place in the National League West hinged on him making a tough play.

"Coming into the play, that's kind of a do-or-die situation," DeWitt said. "You've just got to be ready. Pretty much in that situation you think any way you can get it done you've got to try. Somehow you've got to come up with that ball, somehow you've got to make that throw."

DeWitt did just that, making a sliding backhanded pick before getting up and throwing out Ojeda, who dived into first after DeWitt's throw landed in the glove of first baseman James Loney.

With the game extended, the Dodgers ended up prevailing to move into a first-place tie in the division.

"It was a great play," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Those are the plays where you see him play under pressure like that, he's going to be a good player. Is he going to make the All-Star team every year? Not necessarily. But I know one thing: He's going to help a team win because of how he plays under pressure."

DeWitt's defense has been solid all season. Entering Saturday, he'd gone 34 straight contests without making an error entering Saturday.

That's what has kept him in the lineup on a consistent basis despite hitting just .207 with no homers and five RBIs in 116 at-bats the past month and a half after winning NL Rookie of the Month honors in May for hitting .322 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 87 at-bats.

"That's what makes him special," Torre said. "A lot of young players, if they're not hitting, will let it affect the other side, but he's pretty grounded for a kid with a limited experience and the age that he's playing this game with and wasn't even supposed to be around here this year."

DeWitt, a 22-year-old rookie who was supposed to start at Double-A this season before injuries forced him into the Opening Day lineup, said he's still getting used to the adjustments hitters have to make at the Major League level, potentially a reason he's gone 12 straight games without an extra-base hit.

"It's not necessarily they're pitching me different [from earlier in the year] because one night it may be one thing, the next night it may be another," DeWitt said. "You make an adjustment one night, the next night's probably going to be different, so it's just a game of adjustments. From pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat you have to be ready to make those adjustments."

Even with third baseman Andy LaRoche -- whose Spring Training thumb injury helped open the door for DeWitt -- now back and healthy, DeWitt has started nine of Los Angeles' past 10 games, including Saturday, and 15 of 18.

Torre said he sees DeWitt as being a bit eager at the plate right now, but he's willing to stick with the rookie so long as he keeps playing defense like he did on Friday.

"It's just a trust factor I guess," Torre said. "It probably worked against LaRoche that I've seen so much of DeWitt. It's certainly not anything against LaRoche other than the fact that for what I'm looking for Blake is filling the bill so to speak."

Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.