- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
- 0 Shares
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Generally speaking, the late innings of a spring-training game are defined by anonymity. Often, with the teams' regulars and even many of their non-roster invitees having long since gone to the clubhouse, the lineups are dotted with players borrowed from the minor league camp.
Corey Smith has been one of those guys four times for the Los Angeles Dodgers this spring, but somebody forgot to tell him the part about the anonymity.
Smith, who entered at first base in the bottom of the seventh inning on Sunday, hit a three-run, game-tying homer in the eighth off an experienced major league reliever named Josh Kinney. Two batters later, another 80-something, infield prospect Jaime Pedroza, hit a two-run blast off Kinney, lifting the Dodgers to a 9-7 victory over the Chicago White Sox before 9,237 at Camelback Ranch.
Smith has now come to the plate six times for the Dodgers this spring. The result has been two home runs off Kinney and Kansas City's Kanekoa Texeira, a double off San Francisco's Guillermo Mota and two walks.
What that means in the grand scheme of the Dodgers' 2011 season could be nothing. Smith isn't likely to be on the team at any point this year. But the soon-to-be-29-year-old and former first-round draft choice of the Cleveland Indians, whom Dodgers assistant general manager DeJon Watson signed as a minor league free agent a year ago and then re-signed this winter, is a perfect example of why some players have value to their organizations that go way beyond the numbers they put up.
"He came over last year and did a really nice job at (Double-A) Chattanooga," Watson said. "Plus, it's always good to have a veteran guy like that around a lot of your younger guys, like (highly valued prospects) Trayvon Robinson and Dee Gordon."
After more than a decade in the minors, though, Smith still has the same goal he has had from the day the Indians took him with the 26th overall pick back in 2000.
"As long as you have the uniform on, you have a chance," he said. "That is pretty much what I'm playing for, is to get to the big leagues."
Smith doesn't have to look far to find a precedent. He now shares a minor league clubhouse with John Lindsey, another power-hitting first baseman who got his first callup by the Dodgers last September after chasing the dream for 16 seasons in the minors. Lindsey's story is a compelling one for fans and the media, but for guys like Smith, it's a story of hope.
"Absolutely," Smith said. "I actually called John last year and said, `Congratulations,' and `You're an inspiration to me.' I have never been in the right place at the right time, and I have had to fight for every opportunity. But whenever I get those opportunities, I have just tried to make the most of them."
Smith hit .275 with a .343 on-base percentage, 13 homers and 86 RBI at Chattanooga last season, and he found the Dodgers organization a comfortable enough fit that he didn't hesitate to re-sign. He is hoping to earn a spot at Triple-A Albuquerque this year, a level he last played at in 2008 while with the Los Angeles Angels. Ironically, it appears to be Lindsey with whom Smith is competing for that job or with whom he would be competing for playing time if both of them were to end up there. But one thing he can leave camp with is the knowledge that every time he delivered one of those big blows in the Cactus League this spring, general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly were right there watching.
"You sure try (to open their eyes)," Smith said. "That is the whole point of it, to come out and try to do whatever you can and to try to stay within yourself and make something happen. I really worked hard this winter, and I still believe."
Broxton, Kuo look strong
The Dodgers got one perfect inning apiece from their back-end bullpen duo of closer Jonathan Broxton and setup man Hong-Chih Kuo. Broxton entered to start the sixth and immediately struck out the strikeout-prone Adam Dunn, then got Paul Konerko and Alex Rios to fly harmlessly to center. Kuo then pitched the eighth, getting Konerko to fly out, Rios to ground to second and Jordan Danks to take a called third strike.
Kuo has now retired the past nine batters he has faced, striking out three of them.
Broxton is scheduled for an inning in one of Monday's split-squad games, marking the first time this spring he will have pitched on back-to-back days. Veteran right-hander Matt Guerrier, who may get the bulk of the seventh-inning duty this season, also was scheduled for his first back-to-back, but that was scratched because he threw so many pitches in a four-run seventh inning against the White Sox.
Kuo, because of his extensive medical history, won't be going back-to-back.
"Not anytime this spring," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "Not anytime in April. And probably not anytime in May, either."
The last one
While the Dodgers held their annual spring-training meeting with the leadership of the Major League Baseball Players Union for about two hours on Saturday morning, non-roster left-hander Ron Mahay went about his normal morning routine.
Mahay, 39, doesn't like to talk about his status as baseball's last remaining replacement player from the 1995 players' strike -- "That was 15 years ago," he said -- and really, the only lingering fallout from it is that he doesn't belong to the union, doesn't receive union benefits and is barred from union meetings.
At the time, Mahay was a 24-year-old outfield prospect with the Boston Red Sox, who had drafted him in the 18th round in 1991. With his minor league career stuck in neutral -- he had a .262 career average and had played all of eight games above Class A -- he evidently figured he had nothing to lose and took a shot at playing in a watered-down version of the majors.
But when the strike ended just before the replacements were to have opened the regular season, their services were no longer needed. Mahay went back to the minors. He then converted to pitching after that '95 season and was in the majors by '97.
At the time, the strike was still fresh enough in everyone's memory that major leaguers, to varying degrees, routinely ostracized replacement players who were called up. But that practice faded away over time, and Mahay has since fashioned a nice career, accumulating almost a decade of big-league service time over the past 13 years with eight clubs.
He spent almost all of the past four seasons in the majors with the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins, and he has a career ERA of 3.83. But when a strain in his non-pitching shoulder, which he suffered making a defensive play, ended his 2010 season in late August, he wound up having to settle for a minor league contract with the Dodgers, which he signed just two weeks before the start of spring training.
Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp hit his team-leading fourth home run of the spring, a two-run blast high onto the leftfield berm in the sixth inning against Gavin Floyd. Kemp also is the runaway team leader in RBI with 13, and he is hitting .326. ...
Mattingly said top pitching prospect Rubby De La Rosa will be among the minor league players who go to Los Angeles with the team next week for three exhibition games to close out the spring. De La Rosa, who pitched four scoreless, hitless innings against the Giants on Saturday and has a 1.80 ERA in the Cactus League, remains in big league camp for now, but is expected to be reassigned at some point. ...
The Dodgers (9-15-1) play a split-squad doubleheader on Monday, beginning with a day game against the Oakland A's at Camelback Ranch. Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers' scheduled opening-day starter, will make his penultimate start of the spring against A's lefty Brett Anderson. The Dodgers then will travel to Scottsdale for a night game with the Arizona Diamondbacks, with non-roster right-hander Tim Redding going against right-hander Ian Kennedy, who already has been named the Diamondbacks opening-day starter. There is, however, rain in the forecast.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Often, with the teams' regulars and even many of their non-roster invitees having long since gone to the clubhouse, the lineups are dotted with players borrowed from the minor league camp.