DODGERS NOTEBOOK: BETEMIT HOPES TO PULL SWITCH.
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Take a quick glance at the Dodgers' projected starting lineup, and it's a good bet the name you will find least inspiring is that of third baseman Wilson Betemit.
He isn't some celebrated new acquisition, he doesn't appear to have middle-of-the-order power, and as switch-hitters go, he makes a good left-handed hitter.
But you should hear what people are saying about him.
"I think this kid could be the best player on this team," Dodgers hitting coach Eddie Murray said. "He is that strong."
It is that potential that made Betemit attractive to the Dodgers at last season's trading deadline. But potential is just that, and while Betemit did hit nine home runs in 174 at-bats after the Dodgers acquired him from Atlanta, megahyped prospect Andy La Roche is still being given a chance to beat him out this spring and take away what is expected to be the first everyday starting job of Betemit's career.
Even if La Roche starts the season in Triple-A, he'll continue to challenge Betemit from afar. And Betemit's best bet for holding off that challenge will be to even out his production from both sides of the plate. Last year, he hit just .189 from his natural right side and almost 100 points higher (.281) left-handed.
"Everybody says I can't hit right-handed," Betemit said. "But when I was with Atlanta, I had a lot of right-handed pinch-hitting appearances. I see the ball well right-handed. But there are so many more right-handed pitchers that I don't get many right-handed at-bats. When you're a switch-hitter, it's like you're always struggling from one side or the other."
Murray, himself a switch-hitter who slugged his way into the Hall of Fame, is spending a lot of time this spring trying to correct that for Betemit.
"As a switch-hitter, you're going to go through some ups and downs," Murray said. "We have some little things we're trying out with him, but until you see a guy in a game situation, you don't know how he is going to respond. The biggest thing is to keep things simple and just try to build up that confidence."
Another key for Betemit will be to cut down on his strikeouts, something that happened 102 times last year.
If he had put the ball in play on half of those at-bats, some of those 51 balls might have found holes and fallen for base hits, something that would have improved Betemit's .263 overall average for the season.
Lineup update: Dodgers manager Grady Little said catcher Russell Martin probably will bat sixth this season, although he qualified that by adding, "Don't hold me to that."
That would leave just Betemit and right fielder Andre Ethier still to be slotted in the seventh and eighth spots in whatever order Little chooses.
"If (Martin) can stay on the field and play as much as we want him to play, I wouldn't be surprised if we see this kid hit 15 or 20 home runs," Little said.
Martin batted eighth in the vast majority of his 114 starts last season.
It's difficult to predict how Betemit and Ethier would fit into the next two spots. Betemit hit 18 homers to Ethier's 11last season.
Ethier's higher average (.308) and on-base percentage (.365) might make him a better fit for the eight hole because he could create bunting situations with the pitcher batting behind him.
Starting over: For the first time, Little included left- hander Greg Miller in the list of candidates for the fifth spot in the Dodgers' starting rotation.
While Miller is the longest of long shots, the significance of Little's statement is that Miller, the organization's top lefty prospect before 2004 shoulder surgery derailed his career, is going back to starting.
"If he continues through spring training the way he came in here, I wouldn't be surprised if that is the case," Little said. "This guy hasn't been healthy for a couple of years, but he is healthy now. We will do the best we can to continue his progress."
Little said Miller will enter Grapefruit League play on a starter's program, meaning he gradually will be stretched out to several innings at a time.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Feb 27, 2007|
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