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No fooling, Blake DeWitt earns second base job

Even Blake DeWitt’s moment of triumph didn’t come easily.

It was widely assumed that the 24-year-old infielder, who spent last year bouncing between the Dodgers and their triple-A team in Albuquerque, finally would win the second baseman’s job in the big leagues this season.

There also was speculation that the announcement might come Thursday, the same day Manager Joe Torre announced that knuckleballer Charlie Haeger would be the fifth pitcher in the Dodgers’ starting rotation.

But when DeWitt met Torre and General Manager Ned Colletti in Torre’s office at Dodger Stadium before Thursday night’s exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians, “They told me they were going to send me to Albuquerque” again, DeWitt said.

“You’re definitely not happy,” he said. “Then all of a sudden they were like, ‘You know what’s the date today?’ ” DeWitt replied he didn’t know. “They said, ‘It’s April 1.’ Then Joe said, ‘April Fools’.’

“They played it off real good,” said a smiling and much-relieved DeWitt. “I was not expecting that at all.”

DeWitt, though, had been expected to be the Dodgers’ second baseman when the team opens the season Monday in Pittsburgh. Although second base is a relatively new position for him, DeWitt has hit well this spring and he’s young, so he has the potential to play there for years to come.

Entering Thursday’s game, the first since the Dodgers left their spring-training camp at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix, the left-handed batting DeWitt was hitting .339 with an on-base percentage of .439.

“Over the long haul, Blake DeWitt is the young guy who needs to play every day,” Torre told reporters. And veterans Jamey Carroll and Ronnie Belliard, who also were contenders for the second base job, “can play against some left-handers, so we have flexibility.”

Knuckling down

Entering Thursday night’s game — which Haeger started — the 26-year-old right-hander had gone 2-0 with a 2.38 earned-run average in 11 1/3 innings during spring training. He bested several pitchers to earn the fifth spot, including Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz, Eric Stults and Carlos Monasterios.

Haeger’s first outing should come April 10 or 11 when the Dodgers travel to Florida to play the Marlins, and the Dodgers will need a fifth starter four times overall in April, Torre said.

The Dodgers acquired Haeger last August after he had appeared in only 19 major league games since being drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2001. He then appeared in six games for the Dodgers — including three starts — and was 1-1 with a 3.32 ERA.

Upon hearing he made the rotation, Haeger said he felt “joy, I feel just like a little kid. It’s a dream come true, I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this for a long time. I called my mom, she was pretty happy.”

Haeger developed his knuckleball six years ago mainly to save his career because, as he acknowledged last season, he was struggling to get batters out as “a regular right-handed pitcher.”

“I knew when I first started throwing it the chances probably weren’t great” to earn a spot on the rotation,” he said. “But I’ve put in a lot of hard work and a lot of time and it’s paying off. “

Short hops

Right-hander Josh Towers was sent to Albuquerque . . Left-handed reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, sidelined by a tender elbow, threw about 35 pitches off flat ground.

james.peltz@latimes.com


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