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03/17/11 10:00 PM ET

Gimenez showing Dodgers he belongs

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- So who is Hector Gimenez and why is a 29-year-old with two Major League at-bats and 10 Minor League seasons in the running for an Opening Day roster spot with the Dodgers?

Gimenez is another Venezuelan Winter League discovery of Ron Rizzi, the Dodgers' scout who found Ronald Belisario and Carlos Monasterios.

Gimenez was signed as a switch-hitting catcher last Nov. 19, when Rod Barajas was a free agent, Dioner Navarro was still with Tampa Bay and Russell Martin was healing from a broken hip.

Since the signings of Barajas and Navarro, and with A.J. Ellis blocked and expecting a return to Triple-A, there really isn't room for another catcher. So Gimenez grabbed a first baseman's mitt and has spent the spring working out the rough edges of a position he played in winter ball.

Back in the day, Gimenez was a converted third baseman who turned into the Houston Astros' catcher of the future. But after a September callup in 2006, he blew out his shoulder in 2007 Spring Training and spent the season recovering from labrum surgery.

He was waived by Houston and signed by Tampa Bay, splitting time in 2008 between Double-A and Class A and was cut loose again. He signed with Pittsburgh and split time between Double-A and Triple-A in 2009, then agreed to go back to Double-A to play regularly in 2010, when he hit .305 with 16 homers and 72 RBIs.

Gimenez opted for free agency again as a six-year free agent and said he had offers from eight organizations, plus one from Japan, but he was convinced by Rizzi in November to sign with the Dodgers while he was playing in his native Venezuela.

"Two days after I signed, they put me on the Major League roster," said Gimenez. "I was surprised."

Now Gimenez is surprising the Dodgers. He slugged a home run Thursday, an opposite-field three-run shot just inside the left-field foul pole. It was his second homer of the spring in 24 at-bats, and he's showing the kind of hitting style that would make him a valuable bat off the bench.

He's hitting .333 with five RBIs, and manager Don Mattingly, who knows something about the subject, said he likes the way Gimenez plays first base.

"I can't complain about the opportunity they are giving me," said Gimenez. "They were really clear with me -- it's all in my hands."

Well, maybe not. Gimenez is out of options, meaning if the Dodgers don't keep him for Opening Day, he would need to clear waivers to be sent to the Minor Leagues. Outfielder Xavier Paul is also out of options, and the club faces the same risk of losing him.

Injuries to Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla have management considering starting the season with 11 pitchers, which probably means Paul will remain with the club. The last position spot could go to Gimenez, but it also might go to a sixth and natural infielder like Juan Castro, Aaron Miles or Ivan DeJesus, especially considering the injury history of Casey Blake and Rafael Furcal.

Gimenez ignores all the speculation, keeps his head down and works from early in the morning (extra first-base practice) until well after the game is over (in the weight room).

"I think this is the chance I've been looking for," said Gimenez. "When I got to the big leagues last time, I hurt my shoulder the next spring, and I've been working hard ever since to get back. My shoulder is 100 percent. I can play with no limitations. I thought I would get this chance sooner, but it is what it is. I never put my head down. I always believed I could get back to the Major Leagues.

"I don't worry about what they will do. I feel like I'm just another guy on the team, and whatever happens, happens. I can't control that. I just have to be prepared."

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