04/01/2013 3:58 PM ET
Defense a big factor in Dodgers' shortstop decision
By Ken Gurnick and Austin Laymance / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers flip-flopped at shortstop last week because, according to manager Don Mattingly, "a lot of [management and staff] people in the room were concerned about shortstop."
So with Hanley Ramirez's thumb injury scuttling Plan A, Mattingly abruptly abandoned Plan B (Luis Cruz at short and a platoon at third) on Wednesday night for Plan C, taking Justin Sellers (whom he sent down to the Minor Leagues on March 16) and starting him Opening Day at short with Cruz back at third base.
"With the pitching staff we have," said Mattingly, "we want to make sure we catch the ball the best we can."
Mattingly said meetings last week led to Plan C, his best explanation for management's apparent indecision. Cruz remained the shortstop until nine days after Ramirez's injury, leaving Sellers only the last four games of Spring Training to get reacclimated. Mattingly said Dee Gordon wasn't considered an option because of defense and management's desire to get him more seasoning after a wasted 2012, even though Gordon was in big league camp a week longer than Sellers.
Mattingly also believes that Cruz is better defensively at third base than short, plus he prefers to have Jerry Hairston, part of the Plan B platoon at third with Juan Uribe and Nick Punto, free to spell Carl Crawford in left field.
"To me, this makes the most sense to solidify at short with the best defender," he said. "Our first reaction with Hanley was to throw Cruz there because of the way he played last year. We've always looked at Sells as a safety valve. We know he'd catch it. He hasn't shown he's a great offensive player, so you're always looking for something better. We still think he can handle the bat if his approach stays solid. We want him to catch the ball and we'll sacrifice offense for that."
Sellers -- a local product whose father, Jeff, pitched in the Major Leagues -- said he didn't get frustrated when he was sent down and he's determined to make the most of the unexpected opportunity.
Sellers hasn't played in a Major League game since May 22, having undergone back disk surgery last August from an injury he suffered sprawling into the box seats while catching a Miguel Montero foul popup. He said the surgery scared him.
"The recovery was not quick and I worked all winter and I've found myself in a good spot," he said. "I know what they expect of me: quality at-bats and make the plays defensively. With the confidence they have in my glove, I think I'll be fine."
Rehab start, return to action set for Billingsley
LOS ANGELES -- Injured Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley will make a rehab start Thursday night for Class A Rancho Cucamonga and expects to start for the Dodgers on April 10 at San Diego.
Billingsley, whose bruised right index finger has made throwing curveballs troublesome, said he needs another outing after a six-inning Minor League start Friday at Camelback Ranch.
"I just wasn't as consistent as I wanted to be," he said. "It shouldn't take long at all. It's been almost two weeks. I just want to get a better feel for it."
Billingsley's injury also allowed management to delay one of its difficult roster decisions by stashing starter Aaron Harang in the bullpen temporarily.
The Dodgers will slide Billingsley into the rotation between third starter Josh Beckett and fourth starter Zack Greinke.
Harang's bullpen role is uncharted territory
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers are more concerned about Aaron Harang transitioning to the bullpen than Chris Capuano. Both were starters for the club a season ago, but will have new roles in 2013.
For Harang, the move to the 'pen comes with several unknowns. The right-hander has rarely pitched in relief over his 11-year career.
"It's not the easiest thing to do when you're used to a set routine," Harang said before Opening Day against the Giants. "There are definitely a lot of adjustments."
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly envisions Harang as a long reliever. But he hasn't sat down with Harang yet to discuss his role in the bullpen. The two talked about the possibility over a week ago, but nothing was certain at that time.
"It is a conversation that we will need to have with Aaron to get him prepared," Mattingly said.
Capuano has more experience as a reliever, most recently with the Mets in 2010.
"We feel like he's probably more equipped to cover a couple different roles," Mattingly said. "He's a guy who can get lefties out. He's shown he can get righties out. We also feel we could use him multiple innings."
The Dodgers used Capuano in relief during Spring Training. But Harang did not get the same experience. He takes longer to warm up, making it hard for Mattingly to know how best to utilize his skills in the bullpen.
"We don't know exactly how to use [Harang], other than he's set up for multiple innings," the manager said. "We are just trying to figure out a routine for him."
Harang said he has not requested a trade.
Ted Lilly is another starter from the 2012 club who will have a different role this season. The left-hander is on the 15-day disabled list as he recovers from left shoulder labrum surgery. Mattingly said Lilly would likely start a Minor League rehab assignment with Class A Rancho Cucamonga on Thursday or Friday. But when he returns to the Dodgers, Lilly likely won't return to the rotation.
For now, the Dodgers bullpen remains a work in progress.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.