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Schumaker shows value of Dodgers' depth

Veteran infielder comes through as team's center fielder in NLDS Game 1 @TracyRingolsby

ATLANTA -- The talk about the Dodgers has been about the glamour and glitz of a franchise that challenged the Yankees for the biggest payroll in baseball.

Bottom line, however, is the Dodgers were able to climb out of last place on July 1 and run away with the National League West title because of their grit and gumption.

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And when they opened the best-of-five NL Division Series with a 6-1 victory against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on Thursday night, the Dodgers reaffirmed the blue-collar mentality that has been the calling card of their 2013 success.

"We have a roster of guys who can get the job done," said outfielder Andre Ethier. "They have stepped up and handled the challenge all year. It's why we are here right now."

The headliners are Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez and Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp. But there's a full cast that has come to the rescue of a team that was the butt of early-season jokes when it was sitting at the bottom of the NL West and it was more than speculation that manager Don Mattingly was working on borrowed time.

And it's a full-team effort that has continued into the postseason, where Kemp, last year's MVP candidate, was left off the active roster because of swelling in a bone in his foot, and Ethier, the usual option in center field when Kemp doesn't play, limited to a pinch-hit role because of discomfort above his left ankle.

That leaves the Dodgers with only two healthy outfielders on their roster -- left fielder Crawford and right fielder Puig.

Enter Skip Schumaker, a 33-year-old self-acknowledged journeyman, who during his close to nine years in the big leagues has made 416 of his 642 starts at second base. Right now, however, he is the No. 1 center fielder in the Dodgers' postseason journey.

The fact that he was able to play a key part in the Dodgers' two-run second inning by delivering a sacrifice fly ahead of a run-scoring double from No. 8 hitter A.J. Ellis to give his team a 2-0 lead underscores what the Dodgers are all about -- teamwork.

"That's how I have stayed around," said Schumaker. "If I don't do the little things, I'm worthless. I've got to get the runner over. I've got to get that guy home from third, like I did [Thursday]. Fortunately I got that fly ball deep enough to get Puig home [in the second]. ... But then you don't have to hit it that deep to get him home."

Gonzalez, whose two-run home run in the third doubled the lead to 4-0, was asked if watching the efforts of the likes of Schumaker, Ellis, who also doubled and scored a run in the fourth, and Mark Ellis, who had two singles, an RBI and a run scored, showed the Dodgers do have depth.

"Maybe to others, but we already know that," said Gonzalez. "We aren't where we are right now if we didn't have the veteran depth to get the job done. Look at our season."

The Dodgers' season was a summer of mix and match.

Gonzalez, who started 148 games at first base, is the only position player to start as many as 110 games at a position. Third baseman Juan Uribe (101 starts), catcher A.J. Ellis (109) and second baseman Mark Ellis (106) are the only others who even started 100 of the team's 162 regular-season games at a single position.

Schumaker is one of five players who started in center field. There were 10 different starters in left and seven in right field, including Schumaker in both those spots, as well as second base.

Not that he is complaining. His ability to fill in and not be overmatched was his ticket to a big league career. And for the Dodgers, what makes him even more valuable is that in spending his previous eight years with St. Louis, he learned to handle not only a utility role, but the pressures of the postseason.

"I was pretty lucky to be able to sit back and watch as a rookie in `05," Schumaker said.

He wasn't on the postseason roster that year for the NL Central champion Cardinals, but he was with the team just in case and got to take in the Cardinals' sweep of San Diego in the NLDS and six-game loss to Houston in the NL Championship Series.

"I got to see how guys prepared and what happened in [postseason] situations," said Schumaker. "Houston was so loud. I had never heard anything that loud before. And with St. Louis, we had all the veterans who helped the young guys as they came up."

It paid off in 2009 when the Cardinals lost to the Dodgers in the NLDS but Schumaker made two starts and went 2-for-6. And it paid off even more in 2011 when the Cardinals beat Texas in the World Series, and Schumaker started the final three games in center field against the Rangers.

"This is really similar to 2011," said Schumaker, who had a backup role in the postseason for the Cardinals last year. "Those are the experiences that prepare you for the opportunities in the future, like this one."

Schumaker gets it.

It's a matter of him maximizing what he is capable of doing.

He's not replacing a Matt Kemp.

He's filling in.

"And I do it the best I can," he said.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for

Los Angeles Dodgers, Mark Ellis, A.J. Ellis, Skip Schumaker