For now, Dodgers are managing some vulnerabilities

Andre Ethier was back in center field Friday night, Carl Crawford might be on deck to relieve him at some point, Miguel Rojas was at shortstop and reliever Paul Maholm was the starting pitcher.

Just like the Dodgers drew it up in spring training, right?

Well, not exactly.

But hey, with the All-Star break beckoning and first place a matter of percentage points, whatever the Dodgers are doing manning some key positions seems to be working.

The question is can they keep mixing and matching their way to a division crown or Wild Card berth and a prolonged postseason run?

‘Yeah. I mean, were there right now,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly pointed out. “We’re not really where we want to be because we haven’t got to the end of the year. But as we sit here today we’re right in the race and we’ve been doing it all year, so I don’t know why we can’t keep doing it.”

That all remains to be seen of course. As summer gives way to fall and every pitch and out and executed play takes on more meaning we’ll see if the Dodgers are adequately situated defensively, most notably at shortstop and center field.

Plenty depends on a clean bill of health for Hanley Ramirez, although his play at shortstop has been waning for some time.

And that was before the flurry of injuries he’s dealt with.

As for center field, Matt Kemp quickly showed he wasn’t capable of providing sufficient defense and Ethier and back-up Scott Van Slyke are nobody’s fleet-footed defenders.

That’s one of the reason Crawford’s begun taking fly balls in center field after Kemp’s switch to left field put Crawford on the bench.

Speed and agility wise, Crawford should be able to handle the position if need be.

But then, Crawford’s left arm is a veteran of Tommy John surgery so the thought of him making throws from deep center field probably has opposing base runners smiling broadly as they sharpen their spikes.

Point is, with runs and outs at a premium – especially later in the year – can the Dodgers afford such vulnerability?

Mattingly simply points to the calendar and his club’s place in the standings and proof they can work around whatever weaknesses they may have.

“It means we have to be smart. We have to position. We have to move counts and things like that,” Mattingly said. “But I think we’re capable of doing that.”

Carl Crawford in center field for Dodgers? Looks like it could happen

Depending on how you look at it, Carl Crawford taking fly balls in center field is either a noble gesture by a player wanting to do anything he can for the team or a harsh reminder just how thin the Dodgers are in one of the most defensive challenging positions on the field.

The answer is it’s a little bit of both.

With no one taking charge of the position – be it because of injury or ineffectiveness – the Dodgers have restored to manning center field by committee.

That typically means Andre Ethier and on occasion Scott Van Slyke, neither of whom will be mistaken for your quintessential center fielder. As for Matt Kemp, who began the year in center field, he’s now in left field – a move necessitated by Kemp’s noticeable loss of speed and agility after suffering through two injury riddled seasons.

Now you can add Crawford to the mix. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly dropped that little nugget on everyone Saturday when he revealed Crawford has begun getting work in in center.

“ He played it in the minor leagues and in Tampa and they kind of moved him. But I think with our situation there’s nothing wrong with him going out there and taking some fly balls,” Mattingly said. You never know what can happen. So, you know, we encouraged him to do a little work out there.”

While Crawford brings the much-needed element of speed to center, his arm strength is severely diminished after undergoing Tommy John surgery two years ago.

Mattingly didn’t sound concerned Crawford’s throwing issues would be an issue, insisting Crawford could utilize his other assets to compensate.

“How many guys you see getting thrown out? Really, on the bases?,” Mattingly said, “It’s more about range and getting to balls. Carl really runs well. I think, like metrically, he’s been really good in left field. He’s a guy that will run a ball down for you.”

Mattingly was confident Crawford could keep runners going from first to third on outfield singles.

If not with his arm, then his legs.

“Absolutely. Because you use your speed in different ways,” Mattingly said. “That means, in case you don’t throw as well, you get to the ball quicker. You use your speed to cut down that time. You get rid of it quicker and you practice to be accurate. It’s not always about arm strength. It’s how you use the tools you have.”

DODGERS JUSTIN TURNER CLOSES IN ON RETURN

Brian Wilson looked quizzically at Justin Turner as Turner approached him at his locker in the Dodgers clubhouse Saturday.

“Oh hey, welcome back,” Wilson finally said, shaking Turner’s hand.

“For a minute there I thought you forgot who I was,” Turner told Wilson, laughing.

“Not at all,” Wilson said. “If anything it was almost like you never left.”

In time and distance, Turner wasn’t gone very long and he didn’t stray very far.

But he was away nonetheless. Although it looks like his return is imminent.

Since landing on the disabled list on June 29 with a strained left hamstring Turner’s been in Arizona rehabbing the injury.

But his arrival back in Los Angeles over the weekend marked a significant milestone in his recovery. Things are going so well he’s been cleared to play Sunday in Single A Rancho Cucamonga – as a D.H.- and if everything goes well the back-up infielder could be back with the Dodgers by next Friday in St. Louis.

“We’ll see how it goes,” a hopeful Turner said after spending Saturday afternoon doing agility work in the outfield and running the bases.

“Everything went well,” he said. “You can’t simulate game speed, obviously, but I felt like I was as close to 100 percent as I can be.”

So now it’s off to the minor leagues to test the hamstring, and hopefully pave a path back to the Dodgers after the All-Star break.

For Turner, it will be full go as he gauges the strength in the leg.

And at the urging of the Dodgers training staff, no holds barred.

“They told me when I’m playing these games, no matter where the ball’s at try to make it as game like as possible,” Turner said. “Whatever it takes to have that confidence for what ever happens.”