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Are there four Dodgers outfielders for three spots or two for one?

The Dodgers still have a math problem in the outfield, but you have to wonder if it will ultimately be the one so anticipated.

They still have four high-profile outfielders for three spots. Of course, they were expected to have the same problem last season after the emergence of Yasiel Puig. But because of various injuries, it happened one game all season.

But now all four expect to be healthy. And to play, naturally.

Matt Kemp made it clear he expects to be in the lineup each game, which would reduce this four for three to a three-for-two spots dilemma.

“I’m an everyday player,” Kemp said last weekend. “I play every day. I don’t want to even really want to talk about that because I’m trying to play every day. I’m not trying to get days off.”

If Kemp is the player he was in 2011, he will be an everyday player. He said his upper body strength is good and he’s been able to hit this winter, unlike last year when he was coming off major shoulder surgery. The bigger question now is how he comes back from off-season ankle surgery.

Likewise, if Puig is anywhere near the player he was the first 10 weeks of his career (.373 batting average, .436 on-base and .589 slugging percentages), there’s no way you sit him much. And then there were his last 42 games (.233/.319/.445).

Which could leave the two left-handed hitters -- Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford -- rotating for the third spot, particularly against left-handed pitchers.

Crawford is eager to head into spring, his surgeries of 2012 well behind him.

“I feel good,” Crawford said. “I’m finally healthy and didn’t have to spend the whole off-season rehabbing.”

Crawford too wants to play every day, though he’s taking a malleable approach.

“Whatever makes the team better,” he said. “I definitely want to play as much as possible and as much as I can, and just leave it on the field.”

Ethier is also well beyond the ankle injury that hobbled him down the stretch and in the playoffs. He showed defensive versatility when Kemp was out, playing well in center field.

That’s a lot of high-priced talent and if -- a very big if -- all four are healthy, balancing their playing time could prove Manager Don Mattingly’s biggest challenge in the coming season.

“All the talk last year about four outfielders, and we really didn’t have to deal with it,” Mattingly said.

Mattingly's standard response to the outfielder surplus is that the best three will play.

General Manager Ned Colletti listened to offers on all four outfielders in the off-season but found nothing enticing and will head to camp with all four.

“We have 162 games. We’ll take the four and see how it goes,” Colletti said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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