02/12/2013 5:01 PM ET
Crawford 'confident' he'll be ready for Opening Day
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On the day pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, perhaps the biggest question mark in the Dodgers' clubhouse Tuesday was an outfielder.
And not Matt Kemp, who is already taking batting practice on the rebound from October shoulder surgery.
Carl Crawford, though, is not as far along in his recovery from August Tommy John surgery on his left (throwing) elbow. He's throwing up to 90 feet, hitting off a tee and hopes to graduate in the next few days to live pitching, which Kemp did weeks ago.
Crawford said he's "confident" he'll be ready by Opening Day, depending on what the Dodgers "want to see."
"I think I can hit the cutoff man, but I don't know if that's where they want me to come back," he said. "I think I'm an everyday guy, but I understand the thought of easing me back in."
Crawford said he has no pain in his elbow, "just typical muscle fatigue," and that his arthritic left wrist hasn't given him trouble, but "it's something to stay on top of throughout the season."
The Dodgers picked up $100 million of Boston Red Sox commitment to Crawford in last summer's blockbuster trade that also brought Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto. Crawford's contract deal has five years left on it.
Manager Don Mattingly said he's prepared to platoon Jerry Hairston and Skip Schumaker in left field at the start of the season rather than rush Crawford before he's ready.
Most likely, Crawford would bat leadoff for the Dodgers, even though he's hit second most of his Major League career. That has led to a reputation -- which Crawford said is unwarranted -- that he doesn't like batting leadoff.
"I don't know where that came from," he said. "I play where the manager puts me. I played for Lou Piniella, and you can't tell him where to hit you. Leadoff was the only place I ever hit in the Minor Leagues, but I got to the big leagues and it switched. I was 20 and I couldn't ask questions. I just hit. Now that [reputation] has been with me for 10 years because somebody said I don't like it."
Wherever he bats, Crawford is just looking forward to a fresh start after two lost seasons in Boston, and he said there's "definitely a different feel" after one day in the Dodgers' clubhouse. Crawford, a four-time All-Star with Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in Tampa Bay, signed a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox after the 2010 season.
What followed were the worst offensive season of his career in 2011 and the most painful one in '12, leading to fan and media criticism, then the trade.
"It was very frustrating," Crawford said. "I didn't play to expectations, pretty much failed for the first time in my life. It was the toughest challenge I ever had. A lot of times, I did [have regrets signing with Boston]. All the talk was about how much money I wanted. I just wondered if I made the right decision. At the end of the day, it's behind me and I try to move forward."
He said he'd like to think he's "that [All-Star] player again," but concedes even he has had doubts.
"I don't like to make excuses. For whatever reason, it didn't go as planned," he said. "I had a confidence problem during that time. You start to have problems and you have less confidence. I think I'm at a place where I feel a lot better about myself, like the player I once was. There was definitely a dark cloud over me.
"But I saw Adrian going through it, he was still having a good year, and with my struggles, it wouldn't get better for me. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, and it put me in a depressive stage. I feel a lot better with the trade now."
He concedes he didn't think there was any chance of getting out of "the toxic environment" in Boston, that no team would be willing to pick up an injured player and the $100 million commitment with him.
"I didn't think a trade like that would ever happen," he said. "I started to say, 'Is this ever going to end?'"
Kershaw won't talk extension during season
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw said negotiations with the club to extend his contract have not started and, if and when they do, they won't take place once the regular season begins.
"I don't think I'll let it go into the season, if it happens at all," said Kershaw, who earns $11 million this year in the final season of a two-year deal. Kershaw is not eligible for free agency until after the 2014 season.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said there is mutual interest in an extension, but that it would be done "quietly." Speculation has heated up again with news that the Mariners and their ace, Felix Hernandez, had been working on a seven-year, $175 million extension.
Kershaw was asked if he had thought about breaking the $200 million barrier.
"Obviously, you know how much people make," he said. "Just more than anything, I want to live up to the expectations of being a baseball player. The bigger the contract, the more responsibility you have to your teammates, to your organization and to be a good steward to the community, too. The more money you make, the more responsibility, too."
Kershaw hasn't had a problem with responsibility, emerging as the ace at the age of 22, winning a National League Cy Young Award at the age of 23, and one month from turning 25, he's leading a staff loaded with eight starting pitchers. He said the money talk in the media doesn't bother him.
"Because it's not true," he said.
Kershaw reiterated that the hip impingement that caused him to miss a September start is gone.
"I don't know why it went away, but it did," he said. "It's gone. I feel great. I'm excited. I feel 100 percent, and we've got a good team. That's where my focus is."
Ryu getting help adapting from Cruz
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, covered by more than two dozen media from his native Korea on Tuesday's Spring Training reporting day, said he's had an unexpected cultural coach -- third baseman, and Mexican native, Luis Cruz.
"He downloaded a Korean translation application and he texts me in Korean," said Ryu. "I had Mexican teammates last year, and it's easy to get to know them."
Ryu, speaking through an interpreter, said he hasn't advanced beyond one-word answers in English and hasn't begun English classes, but expects to soon. In the clubhouse, he said he is "humble, going straight to my locker and not making too much noise and sitting still."
He said he has communicated with countryman and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo for tips on acclimating to Major League life, and Ryu acknowledged feeling "nervous and anxious" about his new challenge.
Ryu, listed at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, said he's lost eight pounds in the 10 days he's been in Arizona by staying away from cheeseburgers.
"No In-N-Out," he said, "but I will as soon as camp is over."
Ryu also declined an invitation to join Team Korea if it advances to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic.
"It's really flattering, but I feel it's wrong, it ruins team chemistry for one who isn't practicing to join at the end," he said. "It's not fair to the others. I appreciate it, but I kindly defer."
Billingsley not worried about partially torn UCL
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Maybe Dodgers ownership would have spent $200 million this winter to sign Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu even if there was no doubt about Chad Billingsley's arm.
But there is, even if not in the mind of the man with that arm, who sounded convincing Tuesday when he said he's not worried about the partially torn elbow ligament that cut short his 2012 season and left management looking for more arms.
"I feel normal," said Billingsley, who chose platelet-rich plasma injections over Tommy John surgery, as Takashi Saito did successfully five years ago. "There wasn't a time in the offseason when I felt like I didn't know if it would hold up," Billingsley said. "I know some people think it's an issue, but I don't. I came to Spring Training not worried about it."
That's because, after rehabbing the elbow last September and October, he was able to hit 94 mph in a simulated game in November.
"They pushed me, basically gave me a chance to blow it out, figuring if it was going to fail, it would be better to know then," said Billingsley. "In the simulated game, I felt awesome. I'm really excited."
The Dodgers now have eight pitchers vying for five starting spots. Billingsley had success pitching in relief in 2007, but he has been a starter ever since.
"I'm not thinking about that right now," he said when asked if he'd be willing to relieve again.
Catcher Alfonzo doesn't report due to family matter
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Non-roster catcher Eliezer Alfonzo did not report to Major League Spring Training with the rest of the Dodgers' pitchers and catchers Tuesday as he attended to a family matter.
Alfonzo, 34, hit 12 homers for the Giants as a rookie in 2006, but has bounced around since then and played in Mexico last year.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.