3/20/2014 6:40 A.M. ET
Backup catcher decision looms before opener
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
SYDNEY -- The Dodgers have at least one tough roster decision to make before the first game of the Opening Series on Saturday -- backup catcher.
Tim Federowicz made last year's Opening Day roster and spent four stints as No. 1 catcher A.J. Ellis' understudy when not shuttling to Triple-A Albuquerque. But at last year's July 31 Trade Deadline, the Dodgers acquired defensive specialist Drew Butera from the Twins.
For roster purposes, the difference in the pair is this: Federowicz can be optioned to the Minor Leagues, but Butera is out of options and would need to clear waivers to remain in the organization. Keeping three catchers who play no other position is very unlikely.
The likely move is to option Federowicz, keep Butera as the backup, and fill the last roster spot with Cuban rookie infielder Alex Guerrero. Of the three apparent extra position players on the trip (Miguel Rojas and Joc Pederson are the others), Guerrero is the only one already on the Major League roster.
Adding either of the others would require the Dodgers to move somebody off the 40-man roster.
The Dodgers will have some roster flexibility when they resume regular-season play in the U.S. March 30 in San Diego. Outfielder Carl Crawford can come off the paternity list, and the three exempt pitchers (Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Brandon League) can be activated. Josh Beckett will likely be placed on the disabled list because of a bruised hand.
Signs point to Gordon leading off, starting at second
SYDNEY -- Don Mattingly hasn't officially announced his starting lineup for the first game of the Opening Series, but the one he put on the field for Thursday's exhibition game against Team Australia will probably be repeated when the Dodgers face the D-backs on Saturday night at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Dee Gordon led off and played second base, a job he apparently won with a more impressive transition from shortstop than Cuban signee Alex Guerrero. Right fielder Yasiel Puig batted second, even though Mattingly said early in spring he's intrigued by the idea of Puig leading off.
The lineup also had Scott Van Slyke in left field, where he's filling in for Carl Crawford. Mattingly said Crawford's shoulder issue has cleared, he doesn't have the flu and he will return to Minor League games Thursday. Still no word on the anticipated birth of his child, which put him on the paternity list and off the flight here.
Mattingly said he would manage the exhibition like a "regular game because we don't have enough replacements. Somebody has to play. I'd like to get Van Slyke the last couple innings at first base."
Both teams were restricted to bringing only 30 players on the trip.
Mattingly said he would use as few relievers as possible so his bullpen was fresh for the two games that count.
"We've had good bullpens, doing what we can to keep them sharp," he said. "I don't want to get to Saturday and Sunday and have guys that aren't available. Our hands are tied with the number of guys available."
Coaches prepare players for Cricket Ground nuance
SYDNEY -- The one noticeable hurdle MLB was unable to clear in turning an oval Sydney Cricket Ground into a Major League Baseball venue was managing the size of foul territory.
Think of the Oakland A's O.co Coliseum, only the distance between the baselines and dugouts is even greater at SCG.
There will be no giving up on pop fouls for catchers and infielders. Baserunners should be looking to take two bases on errant throws.
"And I told [Yasiel] Puig, if the right fielder isn't backing up on overthrows to first base, their guy could run for days with the ball rolling around in foul ground," said Dodgers coach Davey Lopes.
Lopes said he's also warned the outfielders (especially Puig) about crashing into the outfield fences, which are stabilized by cement blocks and won't give.
"Another thing to be aware of is the warning track. It's small. It's 2 1/2 steps, no more than three, and you're on the fence."
Third-base coach Lorenzo Bundy said acclimating to the park is the biggest benefit of Thursday night's exhibition game against Team Australia.
"With so much foul ground, you want the runner to tag up, but you always want that," he said. "But we must be in position to take advantage and be aware. And you want the runner to know that if the ball gets away from the catcher, he's going to have to run a long way. We've told the outfielders to back up the bases. And the grass is quick, so any hop that isn't true could turn into an exciting or embarrassing play."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.