DeWitt wins second-base job

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre announced Blake DeWitt had won the team's starting second base job and pitcher Charlie Haeger had earned the fifth spot in the rotation.

"If there's a regular player out there it's Blake DeWitt," Torre said before the Dodgers' exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians at Dodger Stadium. "Ronnie Belliard certainly has been a regular player and could be a regular player for a period of the time, but I think over the long haul Blake DeWitt is the young guy that needs to play every day. If he's not going to play every day he shouldn't be here."

DeWitt, who has made 19 spring starts at second base, has batted .339 with a .536 slugging percentage and a .439 on-base percentage. Torre also mentioned right-handers Belliard and Jamey Carroll also likely will get playing time this season as he sits the left-handed DeWitt against left-handers.

"Between Jamey Carroll and Belliard we have two guys who can play against left-handers so we have some flexibility in that regard," Torre said. "If we see somebody get hot we'll find a place for them for a period of time but over the 162-game schedule we're going to give Blake the chance to start as our second baseman."

Torre has been forced to give DeWitt some bad news over the past two seasons as the 24-year-old had six different stints with the team after being their starting second baseman in the playoffs two years ago. Torre and general manager Ned Colletti pretended as if they were doing it again before Thursday's exhibition game. When Torre called DeWitt into his office he told him he was being sent down to Albuquerque as part of an April Fool's joke.

"Unfortunately for him we used the April 1st thing so even when he had good news it wasn't totally good news," Torre said. "When Ned asked him what day it was, he didn't know what day it was so we had to tell him what day it was. We didn't keep him there very long. He showed more emotion and relief than I've seen in a while."

DeWitt was all smiles in the clubhouse afterward as he received congratulations from teammates and coaches.

"They played it real well," DeWitt said. "They kept asking me what the date was and then they said it's April 1st, I said, 'So.' That's when Joe said, 'April Fool's, you've made the club.' It's a good feeling. That's what you come to spring training for and where you do all that work in the offseason for."

Colletti, who said the April Fool's joke was Torre's idea, said he was impressed with DeWitt's reaction after hearing the "bad news" and is confident he'll do well in his new role.

"When we told him we had to send him down he had the right look on his face," Colletti said. "He said, 'I understand,' and he put his head down and that's when we let him back up. It was only one minute in duration. I think it meant more to him to have it happen that way than to just say he was on the team.

"He works as hard as any player we have here at his craft and he's not a natural second baseman so it doesn't come easy for him, but he worked at it all winter and I saw him in the middle of the winter and I said, 'You're going to have a chance here to take this job.' He's not going to be a Gold Glove second baseman nor does he need to be. He needs to be adequate over there and make the plays. The more he plays we think the better his offense will get too, but he has to play. I don't want Blake DeWitt sitting here if he's not playing so he's going to have to play."

Torre didn't pull any pranks when he informed Haeger he would be the team's fifth starter. Haeger, who made three starts for the Dodgers last season, has had a 2.38 ERA with five strikeouts and 11 walks in 11 1/3 spring innings.

"If things go according to schedule he'll start one of the games in Miami on the weekend, either Saturday or Sunday," Torre said of the knuckleballer. "The fact that he can pitch out of the bullpen maybe Monday and Wednesday -- his versatility gives us some flexibility in that regard. We'll give him a shot at it. We had to pick somebody."

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.