Dodgers' new infield is delivering on defense, as promised

Dodgers' new infield is delivering on defense, as promised
Dodgers second baseman Howie Kendrick relays to first after getting a throw from shortstop Jimmy Rollins to complete adorable play in the third inning of a spring training baseball game on March 15. (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

In three-plus weeks of exhibition games, Adrian Gonzalez's eyes have confirmed what advanced metrics predicted: The Dodgers' infield defense will be better than it was last season.

"Definitely," Gonzalez said.


With three-time Gold Glove Award winner Jimmy Rollins replacing the departed Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers increased their defensive range at shortstop. By acquiring Howie Kendrick and trading Dee Gordon, they added experience at second base.

The two returning players in the infield, first baseman Gonzalez and third baseman Juan Uribe, are considered among the best defenders at their respective positions.

"We have guys with really high baseball IQs," Gonzalez said.

The least experienced player in the projected starting infield is Kendrick, who is 31 and has played nine major league seasons.

Kendrick registered seven above average in defensive runs saved last season, fifth-best in the major leagues among players at his position. Gordon was at minus-five.

Rollins is 36, but still rated above average last season with four defensive runs saved. The offensive-minded Ramirez was at minus-nine, worst in the National League.

Gonzalez won his fourth Gold Glove last season and Uribe topped NL third baseman with 17 defensive runs saved.

"The biggest thing is you don't have to teach anybody anything," Kendrick said. "These guys, they're already established."

As a young player, Kendrick said, "You make some mistakes and you learn from them. Here, they've already made those mistakes. And if we do make mistakes, we know how to move past it really quick."

Gonzalez said experience also allows players to improvise better, if necessary.

"We can act on a dime and adjust," he said. "I think that's going to play a big part, especially when other teams try to bunt on us or try to run some kind of trick play. I don't think anything's going to catch us off guard."

Part of the reason is how the players communicate on the field and in the dugout.

"We're always talking," Uribe said.

That comes as a relief to bench coach Tim Wallach, who oversees the infield.

"They all know where to be, when to be there and they get there," Wallach said. "It makes it a lot easier for me. I don't have to watch them pitch by pitch or hitter by hitter because they know what they're doing."

The players communicate not only to talk about positioning, but also to create an atmosphere in which they are comfortable playing.

"We're always relaxed," Uribe said.

In the middle of the infield, the mood is established by Rollins.

"He keeps it loose," Kendrick said. "That's the way I like to play, relaxed, just have fun."

Early in camp, Rollins and Kendrick focused on establishing their partnership. Rollins, a former NL most valuable player, has spent all 15 of his previous major league seasons with the Phillies. Kendrick's previous nine seasons were spent with the Angels.

"It doesn't take long to get used to," Rollins said. "It's not like he's doing anything very unorthodox where it's like, 'Whoa.' He's pretty straightforward and I'm pretty straightforward."

Rollins said the relationship has evolved because of their willingness to trust each other.

"Trust is something you lose," Rollins said. "You start out trusting until somebody shows you they can't be trusted. So Howie trusts me and I trust him."

Rollins said he has also enjoyed playing next to Uribe.

"Man, he's taken so many hits away from me," Rollins said. "He knows it, too. I've hit so many balls down the line where it's like, 'How does he get there and throw me out all the time?'"

Rollins said he marvels at how Uribe, who is listed by the Dodgers at 245 pounds, moves as well as he does.

"He just makes the plays," Rollins said. "Whether you want to think he's that good or not that good, guess what? You're out."

Wallach, who as a player won three Gold Gloves, is looking forward to how the group will perform in the regular season.

"I just think it's going to be really good," he said. "I just think that whole group is so experienced. Combine it all, it's going to be really fun to watch."

Twitter: @dylanohernandez