Tony Gwynn Jr. says he wasn’t healthy during his final two years with the Dodgers.

Tony Gwynn Jr.Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. doesn’t regret his situation. He’s back in the major leagues after a year-and-a-half layoff. Monday, he was batting leadoff at Dodger Stadium. For the season, he’s batting .250 and is a regular in the Phillies’ outfield rotation.

If he could do anything over from the last two years, however, he admitted that he should have had surgery early in 2012. That’s when Gwynn first noticed the symptoms the led to his sports hernia surgery in September of last year.

The symptoms persisted throughout the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

“I didn’t want to have surgery at all,” he said. “I had just signed a 2-year deal at that point. The last thing you want to do is sign a deal then sit out a period of time. That’s what I was thinking at the time. But you live and you learn. You feel invincible when you’re younger. I learned the hard way that wasn’t the case.”
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Daily Distractions: Philadelphia Phillies offer a visit from the Dodgers’ past and hypothetical present.

Tony Gwynn Jr.

Tony Gwynn Jr. batted .245 in 239 games with the Dodgers from 2011-12. (Getty Images)

When the Dodgers host the Philadelphia Phillies in a four-game series this week, the past and the hypothetical present converge.

Tony Gwynn Jr. played 239 games for the Dodgers from 2011-12. By one metric, he was the team’s best defensive outfielder during that time. Gwynn was a serviceable hitter until somewhere around June 2012; he batted .180 after June 1 of that year. Gwynn gave way to Shane Victorino, then Carl Crawford, and wound up spending all of 2013 in Triple-A.

Gwynn signed with Philadelphia last November (for a modest $900,000) and made the Phillies’ Opening Day roster. Gwynn doesn’t start against left-handed pitchers, so we might not see him in the series until Zack Greinke starts Wednesday. The platoon seems to be working; Gwynn is batting .292 this season.
The success might also stem from his jersey number. After going his own way since he broke into the majors in 2006, Gwynn is wearing his father’s number 19 for the first time in his career.

So about that “hypothetical present.”

The Dodgers were rumored to be interested in their opponent today, Cliff Lee, at the 2012 trade deadline. They traded for Joe Blanton instead and missed the playoffs. Last year Lee went 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA and made the National League All-Star team. Sounds like a missed opportunity.

Then again, given the Phillies’ reluctance to trade any of their high-priced, high-risk veterans (Lee, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley), it’s no surprise that Lee is still in Philadelphia. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has shown no intention of rebuilding his aging roster. Lee might be no less untouchable today than he was in the summer of 2012. His team, meanwhile, is 8-10 in the young season.

Lee, 35, is owed a total of $50 million between this year and next. The Dodgers opted to put that money toward signing Greinke instead and dealt their expendable prospects to Boston for Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto.

To think: Maybe if Lee became a Dodger, the Punto Era might never have existed.

Hypotheticals are fun.

Some bullet points for a Grounation Day:
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Daily Distractions: Julio Urias gets his Mexican food, and Dodgers fans in Rancho Cucamonga get their prospects.

Julio Urias

Julio Urias struck out Will Venable and Yonder Alonso and got Chris Denorfia to ground out in his only spring training inning. (Associated Press photo)

This is a rough map of all the Mexican restaurants in Rancho Cucamonga.

Julio Urias is waiting.

On March 15, after he pitched a scoreless inning against the San Diego Padres — something Brian Wilson couldn’t do last night — Urias still didn’t know where he would begin the regular season. At least the Dodgers’ prized pitching prospect had no trouble identifying the hardest part of being uprooted to the United States at 16.

“It wasn’t really hard except for the food,” he said in Spanish. “The food was probably the hardest part for me.”

Fortunately for Urias, now 17, there are many options in the neighborhood of the Dodgers’ Single-A affiliate in the California League.

As we reported yesterday, Urias will be assigned to Rancho along with 2013 first-round draft picks Chris Anderson and Tom Windle, along with Corey Seager, the Dodgers’ first-round pick in 2012.

In case you’re counting at home, that’s four of the club’s top 10 prospects (per MLB.com) playing in one spot, about an hour east of Los Angeles.

Urias, Anderson and Windle all finished last season with Class-A Great Lakes, and each saw action in one Cactus League game. The Dodgers drafted Anderson and Windle in the first and second rounds of the 2013 draft, respectively, out of college. Urias was signed as a free agent out of Culiacan, Mexico.

Pitcher Zach Lee and outfielder Joc Pederson will begin the season with Triple-A Albuquerque. So will Matt Magill and possibly Onelki Garcia once he’s healthy.

Some bullet points for a Cesar Chavez Day:
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Daily Distractions: What will the Dodgers do with their 39th and 40th roster spots?

Miguel Rojas

Miguel Rojas (bottom) could figure into the Dodgers’ infield depth, as the 40-man roster is currently constructed. (Getty Images)

The Dodgers will have 38 players on their 40-man roster once the contracts for J.P. Howell and Juan Uribe are finalized.

Here’s how that breaks down:

Relief Pitchers (13):
RHP Kenley Jansen
RHP Brian Wilson
LHP Paco Rodriguez
LHP J.P. Howell
RHP Brandon League
RHP Chris Withrow
RHP Jose Dominguez
RHP Javy Guerra
LHP Scott Elbert (will likely begin the season on the 60-day DL)
LHP Onelki Garcia
RHP Yimi Garcia
RHP Pedro Baez
LHP Jarret Martin

Starting pitchers (9):
LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP Zack Greinke
LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu
RHP Dan Haren
RHP Josh Beckett
RHP Chad Billingsley
RHP Matt Magill
RHP Stephen Fife
RHP Seth Rosin

Catchers (3):
A.J. Ellis
Tim Federowicz
Drew Butera

Infielders (5):
1B Adrian Gonzalez
2B/SS Alexander Guerrero
SS Hanley Ramirez
3B Juan Uribe
2B/SS Justin Sellers

Outfielders (6):
Carl Crawford
Matt Kemp
Andre Ethier
Yasiel Puig
Mike Baxter
Nick Buss

Utility (2):
2B/SS/CF Dee Gordon
1B/OF Scott Van Slyke

One trade or one injury between now and Opening Day can shake up the roster. Already, we can count Scott Elbert (who had Tommy John surgery in June) as a placeholder for the 38th spot.

But if you’re Ned Colletti, having filled the big holes already with plenty of free agents still available on Dec. 18, how do you budget those last two spots?

One clue might have come this morning in an interview Colletti gave to 710-AM in Los Angeles. Speaking of the second base position, he mentioned Guerrero, Gordon and Double-A prospect Miguel Rojas as candidates for major-league competition. Rojas is a 24-year-old from Venezuela whom the Dodgers picked up as a minor-league free agent a year ago. One reason why the Cincinnati Reds might have let Rojas go after seven seasons in the organization: He batted just .186/.226/.233 in 44 games at Triple-A in 2012. Rojas batted .233 with 10 steals in 130 games at Double-A Chattanooga in 2013, then batted .235 in the Venezuelan Winter League. He is as defense-first as defense-first second basemen get.

Gordon has less than four innings of major-league experience at second base, but the Dodgers are trying to expand his versatility in the field. He batted .348 with four stolen bases in 12 games in the Dominican League — playing center field. The Dodgers also invited 8-year major-league veteran Brendan Harris to camp on a minor-league contract; that Colletti didn’t mention Harris was probably a simple error of omission.

Still, it was an insight into the Dodgers’ lack of depth compared to spring of 2013, when Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, Luis Cruz, Jerry Hairston Jr., Gordon and Sellers were all capable of filling in somewhere.

The Dodgers could keep their final roster spots open, thinking that Harris and Rojas (or someone else) will be able to grab them in camp. Colletti said he’s comfortable making second base a defensive position next season — which was often the case with Mark Ellis anyway. But as long as Guerrero’s major-league ability remains a question mark, this seems to be the Dodgers’ biggest area for improvement.

Some bullet points for a Wednesday:

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With Matt Kemp on the disabled list, Dodgers will recall a ‘true center fielder’ soon.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp leaves the field with athletic trainer Nancy Pattersonon Wednesday night after straining his right hamstring in a 4-3 loss to the Angels (Associated Press)

Of all the frustrations Matt Kemp has had to deal with this season, a trip to the disabled list was not among them — until Thursday.

Kemp is optimistic he can return once his 15 days are up, which projects to June 14 at Pittsburgh, after straining his right hamstring Wednesday night in Anaheim.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “I love playing baseball. I hate being hurt. This is my second year of being hurt.

“This is a small little obstacle but I’m used to playing 162 games and playing every day.”

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Daily Distractions: Will a day off cure what ails the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp?

Matt Kemp gameday view

(courtesy of MLB.com)

By the looks of things, the Dodgers ought to worry less about Matt Kemp‘s mechanics at the plate than what’s going on inside his head.

That image, courtesy of MLB.com’s Gameday tool, shows Kemp’s final at-bat Tuesday against Jason Marquis. Appropriate to the picture, the bat did not leave his shoulders. Kemp took an 83-mph slider, an 88-mph sinker, and an 82-mph changeup for strikes, ending the sixth inning with a whimper.

I didn’t have a chance to speak to Kemp after the game, but Kemp typically isn’t introspective in the midst of a slump. Most hitters aren’t; if they could explain why they were slumping, they would be hitting the ball better. Based on that sixth-inning at-bat, it would be tempting to pin Kemp’s problem on poor pitch selection. It might not be that simple.

Here’s how Marquis struck out Kemp to end the third inning:

Matt  Kemp

In this at-bat, Kemp’s pitch selection is pretty good. He took two pitches low and out of the zone with two strikes (#3 and #4), then swung a pitch (#5) that might have been a strike — it was about an inch higher than the pitch before. Yet Kemp missed. You have to wonder what he was thinking on the second pitch of this at-bat, a swing-and-miss on a slider over the fattest part of the plate.

Kemp saw two sinkers from Marquis in his first at-bat. The pitch chart isn’t integral here — Kemp took a ball 10 inches off the plate then flew out to right field on the second pitch, which was in the strike zone. Both pitches were sinkers.

By the time the sixth inning rolled around, Kemp should have figured he wasn’t getting any fastballs from Marquis. Yet he took three breaking balls in the strike zone without swinging the bat.

Don Mattingly said after the game that he’s considering giving Kemp a day off, even though the Dodgers have an off-day Thursday. The manager seems to believe Kemp’s slump (he’s hitting .185) begins and ends between his ears.

“Matt’s pressing pretty good,” Mattingly said. “Tonight he seemed really frustrated. The game didn’t help. It’s one of those games that you jump behind early, nothing kind of seems to go your way, and he seemed to be — obviously it didn’t go very good for him.”

From struggling superstars to …

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Tony Gwynn Jr. among Dodgers’ cuts.

Tony  Gwynn Jr.Tony Gwynn Jr. accepted an assignment to the Dodgers’ minor-league camp, catcher Ramon Castro was released and catcher Wilkin Castillo was re-assigned to the minor-league side Monday. The Dodgers have 43 players in camp.

Gwynn’s standing on the Dodgers’ depth chart has only fallen since he was designated for assignment and sent to Triple-A Albuquerque late last season. The Dodgers acquired Skip Schumaker for outfield depth over the winter and have seen Yasiel Puig emerge as an option at the major-league level, if not by Opening Day then maybe sometime this year. Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford have made steady progress in their recovery from shoulder and elbow surgery, respectively. Both could be ready for Opening Day, certainly Kemp and maybe Crawford.

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Dodgers spring training preview: Outfielders.

Matt Kemp

There’s immense potential among this group, but questionable depth beyond the three starters – and an immediate need for depth. Remember when Shane Victorino and Torii Hunter were being mentioned as potential fourth outfielders? It’s because the need existed: Carl Crawford had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow and arthroscopic surgery on his left wrist in 2012, Matt Kemp had surgery to repair his left shoulder last October, and Andre Ethier can’t hit left-handed pitching. More on that in a bit.

In lieu of any big-name acquisitions, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Skip Schumaker — utility infielders who make occasional cameos in the outfield – might begin the season as the fourth and fifth outfielders. Crawford might well begin the season on the disabled list. With so many question marks, there will be plenty of focus on this group in the spring, beginning with the heart and soul of the Dodger lineup.

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Dodgers inviting 17 NRIs to spring training.

Here is the updated list of non-roster invitees to spring training, which is up to 17 as of now:

RHP Juan Abreu
LHP Kelvin De La Cruz
RHP Greg Infante
RHP Peter Moylan
RHP Matt Palmer

C Eliezer Alfonzo
C Wilkin Castillo
C Ramon Castro
C Jesus Flores

INF Alfredo Amezaga
INF Brian Barden
INF Nick Evans
INF Omar Luna
INF Ozzie Martinez
INF Dallas McPherson

OF Tony Gwynn Jr.
OF Jerome (Jeremy) Moore

Tony Gwynn Jr. tried to convince his dad to leave San Diego.

Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. has it different than any other visiting player at Petco Park.

There is a street outside the stadium named after his father, Tony Gwynn, a 15-time All-Star for the Padres from 1982-2001. Gwynn’s number 19 is retired here, one of six numbers on display above the center-field fence.

But at some point, this has to become second-nature to the 29-year-old baseball progeny, who still calls San Diego home in the off-season — right?

“Not at all,” Gwynn Jr. said. “It’s the opposite of that. It’s a reminder of not only how good he was, but how much love the city of San Diego has for him.”

It reminds him of something else, too.
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