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DeWitt the new kid on the block

DeWitt the new kid on the block

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VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Andy LaRoche had some grand plans this spring. The heir apparent at third base for some time now, LaRoche planned to show everyone around Dodgertown exactly why he came so highly touted. This was the year he was primed to win that third-base job for good.

Nomar Garciaparra had some grand plans, too. He wanted to fly into Dodgertown, unpack his glove and bat, and set about the task of impressing anyone with a Dodgers cap and a pulse. Though he entered camp vying for one of the most hotly contested roles on the diamond, Garciaparra wouldn't even consider his situation in that light.

"I don't know if LaRoche and I were battling for third," he said. "I never saw that."

One of those plans, of course, was bound to work, and one of them wasn't. Or so it seemed around Dodgertown until this week, when the club discovered that funny little detail about grand plans. They go wrong. All the time, and every which way.

LaRoche underwent right thumb surgery Monday, which will keep him sidelined for eight to 10 weeks. Three days earlier, an errant pitch struck Garciaparra's right wrist, grounding him for the immediate future.

So when half the Dodgers this week hopped on a plane bound for the other side of the world, there weren't many third basemen left hanging around Holman Stadium. The Dodgers knew it, extending an official invitation for Blake DeWitt, another one of their top infield prospects, to come join the team. A club so rich in third basemen had suddenly resorted to handing the position to a shaggy-haired kid just happy to be here.

And he was happy to be here.

"Two or three days ago, I was in Minor League camp and never thought I'd be over here," DeWitt said. "The opportunity came up, and I'm just going to have fun now."

The fun part might have been a bit easier on Tuesday -- when he racked up two hits -- than Wednesday, when he finished 0-for-4. But that's a truth that these Dodgers are learning to accept with half their teammates in China. Injuries and circumstances have forced them to rely on youth, for better or for worse.

"I don't know what to say," temporary manager Tommy Lasorda said after his half of the Dodgers mustered only two hits off the Nationals on Wednesday. "Every time I looked up at the scoreboard, I kind of got sick."

On this day, DeWitt didn't help -- but that's not the point. No matter what, he's here to stay for the foreseeable future, starting games and helping out each day. With the Dodgers now fresh out of third basemen -- Garciaparra, LaRoche and even utility infielder Tony Abreu are hurt -- DeWitt should receive plenty of playing time until the rest of the team returns from China, or until the rest of his competition can heal.

He's got the credentials, if not the experience. DeWitt, 22, was one of the team's three first-round picks in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, and he spent the next three seasons working his way up to Double-A. In 178 at-bats there last summer, he hit .281 with six home runs.

All the while, the road ahead of him remained blocked. No matter how bright DeWitt's future became, LaRoche's star burned a little brighter. That's just the way it goes as a young third baseman playing under arguably the best third base prospect in the game.

Still, DeWitt swears he didn't spend nights staring up at the Dodgers depth chart, wishing he was somewhere else. His patience belies his years.

"I learned early on you can't worry about who's in front of you," DeWitt said. "And obviously there's two good players -- two great players -- in front of me. But you know, I just can't worry about what they're doing. I can just worry about the team I'm on, and the team I'm playing for, and myself getting better. If you produce like you should, you eventually get a shot."

He's under no impressions that the future is now. He won't make the team -- he wasn't even invited to big league camp until this week -- and that's just fine. He's happy to live in the present, because the present has been treating him pretty good.

But don't blame DeWitt for reveling in some of those possibilities back in January, when he visited Southern California for the first time. Born and raised in Sikeston, Mo. -- population: 17,000 on a good day -- he was amazed by the sights and sounds of Los Angeles. DeWitt spent hours on the beach, taking in shows and savoring the culture.

"I hadn't experienced a lot of those things," he said. "The goal one day is to play there. I could definitely get used to it."

This, right now, right here in Dodgertown, is a start. It doesn't matter that Garciaparra and LaRoche will eventually heal, or that DeWitt will eventually slide back down to a role more fitting for his age. It doesn't matter because sometime -- maybe even sometime soon -- he's likely to return.

"There's some weird stuff that happens," DeWitt said. "You never know what's going to happen, and it's unfortunate that it did happen. This happens every year in baseball. People are injured, and you've just got to be ready. You never know when you may get a chance."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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