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Small-town kid Blake DeWitt draws big-time praise

May 2, 2010 | 12:25 am

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The reviews are positive. A lot of good-so-far stuff, normally followed by it’s a "work in progress."

Hey, the Sistine Chapel was once a work in progress. Blake DeWitt can handle those with an arched eyebrow, those carefully reserving a final verdict.

A natural third baseman, he’s still learning to play second. Still adjusting to being an everyday starter. Still growing by the game.

"I’m still learning, but every game I’m feeling more and more comfortable," DeWitt said. "I know I have a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but I feel good about where I’m at right now. I just need to keep working and keep getting better."

No one doubts the 24-year-old will keep working. His work ethic was never in question, not from the moment the Dodgers selected him with their No.1 pick in 2004 out of Sikeston, Mo.

Sikeston is a one high-school town of approximately 17,000, directly two hours between St. Louis and Memphis. The main attraction is Lambert’s Café, where food like okra and black-eyed peas are served homestyle.

In a Sikestown High School baseball playoff game, maybe 1,000 people would come out to cheer the locals.

"It’s a small town," DeWitt said. "You feel like you know the majority of the people there. I was fortunate to grow up there with the support the town gives its athletics, and pretty much anything that goes on there. There’s a lot of community support. It’s made it nice being from there."

Dewitt2_300 Now he’s in a big city, playing before over 40,000 every night, each sitting in his own judgment on whether DeWitt can cement his standing as the everyday second baseman.

Entering Saturday’s game against the Pirates, DeWitt was hitting .263. He has two doubles and five RBI, but has yet to homer. With his team-leading 11 walks, however, he has a .382 on-base percentage, trailing only Andre Ethier (.386).

"This spring, the job certainly wasn’t handed to him," Torre said. "He worked and showed us we needed to give him an opportunity.

"Offensively he’s done a real good job. He has a feel for the bat. He’s walked a lot. Left-handers don’t seem to bother him.

"Defensively he’s still a little rough around the bag. There are things he needs to improve on, but it doesn’t mean he’s failing. It just means it’s a work in progress."

There’s that phrase again, though DeWitt has never shied away from work. Not when he was the emergency starting third baseman in 2008, not when he had to start at second base in the playoffs for the injured Jeff Kent.

And not last season, when he went up and down from the minors a staggering six times.

"What he had to endure last year, going up and down," Torre said, "he continued to work at what he needed to work on.

"He is quiet and professional. As little as he’s played, he’s impressed the heck out of me, and everybody else. He’s someone you’re going to trust."

Torre said that when DeWitt first played third, he reminded him of Boston’s Mike Lowell.

"Just one of those blue-collar guys that you’re not going to pay attention to but he’s going to be there," Torre said. "And he’s going to do some good things. I’m not saying he’s going to hit as many home runs as Mike, but he’s going to be able to hold his own offensively and he’s going to get big hits."

And the plan is that he'll become a completed work at second base.

"I love second base," DeWitt said. "It’s definitely more active. I like being up the middle. Obviously there’s a lot of work to do. But I’m excited every night to go out and play."

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photos: (Top) Blake DeWitt ranges into left field from third base to make a catch on a fly ball by Pittsburgh's Bobby Crosby on Thursday. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press. (Middle) Blake DeWitt makes the turn at second base after forcing out Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera in an exhibition game in late March at Dodger Stadium. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

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