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Out of the shadows: Uribe key contributor for Dodgers

Third baseman gracefully accepted reduced role before becoming primary player in '13

LOS ANGELES -- Juan Uribe has gone from the Dodgers' forgotten man last year, to an important piece of the club's success this season.

Uribe is once again the Dodgers' primary third baseman. He's played 96 games -- more than in each of his first two seasons in Los Angeles -- and provided a steady bat in the lineup, plus a solid glove in the field.

As the Dodgers continue to rumble toward their first postseason berth in four years, Uribe is one of the few players on the team with a World Series ring. In fact, he has two.

Uribe was a key figure on the Giants in 2010, when they got hot late and won the World Series. He has a similar feeling about this Dodgers club, which has won 40 of its past 48 games.

"I have a good feeling right now," said Uribe, who won his first World Series in 2005 with the White Sox. "We're playing together now. We're working hard. I think the fans see that. It feels good."

The Dodgers are winning, and Uribe is contributing. What a difference a year makes.

Uribe hardly played over the final two months of last season after Luis Cruz took over for him at the hot corner. But Uribe didn't become poison in the clubhouse. Instead, he accepted his role and supported his teammates, further earning their respect in the process.

"The way he handled last year was great," said manager Don Mattingly. "Juan got, in a sense, kicked to the curb a little bit. But he handled that great.

"He stayed being a guy that the guys liked. I know he wasn't happy when he wasn't playing. He expressed that part of it. But he didn't let that part of it come out of the locker room and try to influence other guys."

Uribe played 66 games last season, hitting .191 and appearing in just one game in September. He had an underwhelming 2011 campaign with the Dodgers, hitting .204 in 77 games after signing a three-year, $21 million contract.

Some of Uribe's struggles during his first two years in L.A. could be attributed to injury. He was hobbled by a sports hernia in 2011, and had season-ending surgery in September. He didn't have a normal offseason, which might explain some of his performance in 2012.

Of course, some might argue the lucrative contract played a role in diminished production.

Regardless, Uribe dedicated himself to an intense workout regimen this past winter in the Dominican Republic and got into terrific shape. He was no doubt driven by what transpired at the end of last season.

"He worked so hard during the winter because he wanted to regain his third base position this season," said Dodgers Spring Training coach and broadcaster Manny Mota, who has known Uribe since he was a child. "He wasn't happy with his performance because he felt he didn't play at his level."

Mota sees a more confident Uribe on the field this season, which wasn't the case a year ago.

"He lost his confidence before because he wasn't feeling well and wasn't healthy," Mota said. "He felt like he wasn't helping the ballclub. But now he's feeling healthy, and the preparation and the hard work he did in the Dominican Republic during the winter is paying off for him."

Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire has also had an impact on Uribe this year.

Once a power hitter who slugged at least 20 home runs four times between 2004-10, Uribe has evolved at the plate. His .263 average this season ranks among the top four in his 13-year Major League career. Uribe has also drawn 23 walks, his most since he joined the Dodgers.

"His approach at the plate is much better," Mota said. "Now, he doesn't try to hit a home run. He's using the whole field, and his focus is on making good contact. They've focused on hitting the ball down the middle and using the opposite field."

Uribe's defense has never been in question, though. He's always been a slick fielder and is second this year among National League third basemen with a .984 fielding percentage.

"He's been great, offensively and defensively," Mattingly said.

Uribe has also been great in the clubhouse. His adoring teammates call him "Papi," and they are proud of his success this season. They know what he's been through, and how cruel this game can be.

"Juan is a great teammate, and he's always been a great teammate," said Jerry Hairston Jr. "I know the last couple years have been tough for him, but this year he's really come on. For him to bounce back and contribute the way he has, we're all happy for him."

Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for

Los Angeles Dodgers, Juan Uribe