Marcus Thames fills in wherever needed

Updated: March 22, 2011, 1:35 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Marcus Thames was slated to make his first start at first base for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the afternoon half of Monday's split-squad, Cactus League doubleheader, but that game, against the Oakland A's at Camelback Ranch, was rained out. The Dodgers also played a night game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottsdale with the D-backs winning 3-0.

Although it isn't a position that is natural to Thames, a veteran outfielder who came to the club as a free agent this winter, it is one he has played enough in his career to establish some sense of familiarity and one he may be asked to occasionally play with the Dodgers. In nine major league seasons, Thames has appeared in 44 games at first base -- 33 of them in 2007 with the Detroit Tigers.

"I had never played it before that," he said. "[Tigers manager Jim] Leyland called me that offseason and said, 'Do you have a first baseman's glove?' I said no. So he said, 'We'll be getting you one, so you can get some at-bats.' So whatever it takes to get on the field."

[+] EnlargeMarcus Thames
Harry How/Getty ImagesCareer outfielder Marcus Thames may be asked to occasionally play first base with the Dodgers.

The Tigers had a starting outfield that year of Craig Monroe in left, Curtis Granderson in center and Magglio Ordonez in right, and they had Gary Sheffield as their primary designated hitter. That left Thames, if he was to play at all, to share time at first base with Sean Casey in what essentially was a left-right platoon.

"I took to it a little bit," Thames said. "I went over there every day in spring training and worked with [infield coach Rafael] Belliard and Sean Casey, who is a good friend. It was a team effort. [Infielder] Carlos Guillen helped me out with positioning. I had a lot of guys on the team helping me with positioning and stuff like that."

Thames has a solid .991 fielding percentage at first, with only two errors in 235 chances. But given that he has been an outfielder most of his career, he wouldn't be a viable option as a long-term fill-in at first base if James Loney were to be lost to an injury. However, Thames' career average against lefties (.264) is 28 points higher than against righties (.236), so he could occasionally stand in for Loney against certain lefties.

Even in that case, though, Thames is not the only option. Both Casey Blake, who will get most of the starts at third base, and Jay Gibbons, who will share playing time in left field with Thames and Tony Gwynn, also can play first base.

"I don't plan on us using [Thames] there very much," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "We might do it against a tough left-hander, depending on where we're at and how things are going with James."

Thames said he will gladly do whatever is asked of him.

"James likes to play every day, or at least that's what I hear," he said. "But I'm willing to do whatever I can to help the Dodgers."

Out for the opener

Although both Vicente Padilla (right elbow surgery) and Jon Garland (strained oblique) continue to improve, club officials believe both pitchers will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list. Mattingly had allowed last week for a slight possibility that Padilla, who is progressing much more quickly than the medical staff originally thought he would, could be ready in time for the team's March 31 season opener.

"I think with both of them, we pretty much know they aren't going to make it back by opening day," Mattingly said.

As long as neither pitches in a Cactus League game, their placement on the DL could be backdated to Tuesday, meaning both could be activated as early as April 6, which could be realistic for Padilla. As for Garland, club officials remain hopeful he could be ready when the Dodgers need a fifth starter for the first time on April 12. But that would require a minor league rehabilitation assignment first, and the fact the minor league season doesn't begin until April 6 could create a logistical problem for getting Garland ready to pitch in a major league game that quickly.

"With Jon, right now we're in that 12- or 13-day period [after the injury] where he is starting to feel good, and that is when you have to be careful," Mattingly said. "When they're hurting, they feel it. But when they start improving, that is when they want to start pushing it. They want to get it up to this level, and they want to get it up to that level. For me, this is that little area where you really have to be careful with it."

One to go

Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers' scheduled opening-day starter, endured a frenetic day in which he was supposed to start the afternoon game then got pushed by the rainout to the night game and didn't know until the team bus left Camelback Ranch whether the weather would hold off enough to play. But when he finally did get on a mound, he went five-plus innings, giving up two runs on eight hits while throwing a spring-high 94 pitches.

Kershaw will have one more tuneup before taking the mound against the San Francisco Giants in the Dodgers' March 31 season opener. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Kershaw will be cut back to about 60 pitches in that final spring start on Saturday against the San Diego Padres.

Kershaw wasn't especially pleased with this one, especially after he gave up two runs on four hits in a long fourth inning in which he threw 30-plus pitches. Kershaw rebounded in the fifth, then was lifted after walking the Diamondbacks' Chris Young to start the sixth.

Over his past two starts, Kershaw has allowed eight runs on 19 hits over 10 2/3 innings.

"I know he wasn't completely happy with the last two," Honeycutt said. "He felt like if he had made his pitch a couple of times (it would have been different), but he wasn't able to accomplish it. ... Overall, I feel like he is throwing the ball well. It was just that one inning that kind of got away."

Short hops

Jaime Jarrin, the Dodgers' Hall of Fame Spanish-language broadcaster, was one of three recipients of this year's AMEEs (AFTRA Media and Entertainment Excellence Awards) on Monday night at the Nokia Theatre. The award is presented by AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). The other recipients are "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh and recording artist David Crosby. ...

The Dodgers will be one of several clubs sending scouts to the Texas Rangers' minor league complex in Surprise on Sunday to watch a two-inning performance by Roberto Osuna of Guasave, Mexico. Osuna, who turned 16 on Feb. 7, will become eligible to sign with a major league organization in July. He is the nephew of former Dodgers reliever Antonio Osuna. ...

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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