Still Got It

Still Got It

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After being out of baseball for a year, Chone Figgins is in camp with the Dodgers, trying to prove that he's still got what it takes to be a winner.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On Sunday, in the bottom of the seventh inning against the San Diego Padres, Dodgers pinch-hitter Chone Figgins got behind 0-2. He worked the count to 2-2, before checking his swing on a high fastball. On the next offering from Padres reliever Kevin Quackenbush, he flared an inside-out single to shallow left, just about six feet inside the line.

Quackenbush went to the stretch to face Dee Gordon, and Figgins led off to the edge of the cutout. He feints briefly as Quackenbush delivers a first-pitch ball to Gordon.

As Quackenbush gets the ball back, he looks towards first, then sets. He delivers, as Figgins takes three hard running steps towards second and then slams on the breaks. He draws the catcher out of his crouch with a cocked arm, but there's no throw. Figgins has taken up a rent-free existence in the heads of the San Diego battery.

Quackenbush then shows his B-move to Figgins, throwing over to first, but the 36-year old utility man is back, easily. Then, the A-move. Again, Figgins retreats, each time, leading further and further off the first base bag.

Quackenbush returns his attention to Gordon, delivering a called strike at the knees. He glances back at Figgins.

"I know, right there, he's already frustrated, so one of two things is going to happen: I'm going to steal or, Dee is going to get a good pitch to hit," Figgins says.

Turns out, Figgins was right, on both counts. On Quackenbush's 2-1 offering to Gordon, Figgins turned and kicked, racing towards second. The throw down from Rocky Gale is wide right, and Figgins sneaks under the tag and slides past second, holding in for dear life with the fingertips of his left hand. Safe.

The next pitch Quackenbush threw, Gordon safely deposited into the right-center power alley, bringing Figgins around to score on a triple and giving the Dodgers a 3-1 lead.

"I still got it," Figgins says, as his lips ease back over a mouth full of sparkling Chiclets. "That's the best way I can put it."

*****

A month and a half ago, Figgins was out of a job. He had been for nine months. After an auspicious end to his tumultuous stint in Seattle, the veteran utility man had been released by the Miami Marlins on March 30, 2013, after hitting .308 in spring training.

Despite a career .277 batting average in the Major Leagues, not one of the other 31 teams in the bigs took a chance on him during the 2013 season. So, in January, he found himself back home in Tampa, Fla., for a workout. He wanted to show executives from every Major League club that he was still worth something, that he could still contribute.

"My wife was talking about it, first, to me," Figgins says of his open workout on Jan. 15. "The way I was running in the offseason and staying in shape, I was like, ‘You know what? That would be the best thing, instead of going to play winter ball or something like that,' because I did have a good spring (with Miami). I was thinking, ‘I still got it.' The game was still there. I was like, ‘Let's go and just try a workout, get some scouts out there, see me run and see that the passion's still there.'"

The passion had always been there for Figgins. It's part of what made the marriage between him and the Seattle Mariners rocky, to say the least.

After signing a four-year, $38 million with the Mariners in 2010, Figgins was expected to make a big impact in the Northwest, after hitting .291 with 280 stolen bases and 148 doubles over eight years with the Los Angeles/Anaheim Angels. During his time in Anaheim, Figgins had won one World Series and five division titles. From the jump, his tenure in Seattle wasn't exactly a happy marriage.

"I want to win. When an organization has different thoughts of winning, versus somebody who has won a lot, it makes it hard," Figgins says. "They change spots in the order, then want you to do things out of your element of stuff that you're not used to doing, which were why you signed somebody. It makes it hard. I take half the blame, because I allowed myself to change to fit that type of game, and that wasn't me. A lot of the blame is on me, for myself."

Figgins says that he didn't stay within himself, a task he's set himself to doing since he and the Mariners parted ways at the end of the 2012 season.

"It made it hard, after the sixth game of signing a four-year contract, I got pinch-hit for. Nobody knows about that," Figgins says. "The sixth game of the year, I got pinch-hit for, and that, as a guy who's played pretty well in his career, that hurts. That knocks you down, and you're thinking, ‘I have to go through this for the next three or four years?' It makes it rough."

Each spring, it got worse for Figgins. Each summer, his average and effectiveness dipped. In 2010, Figgins hit .259 – his lowest mark in his seven full seasons in the Majors – with a career-low 62 runs scored in 161 games. In 2011, he played just 81 games and hit a paltry .188. It got worse in 2012, when Figgins played in 66 games and hit .181, lowering his career-low in stolen bases from 11 the year before, to just four swipes.

"I'd come to spring training and it'd be, ‘Aw, well, we don't know what you're going to do. We're going to let you play first, and depending on how many at-bats, we don't know when we can put you in,' it was just rough from the beginning," says Figgins.

The Mariners released Figgins at the end of 2012, and after a strong 3013 spring training for Miami didn't merit a spot on the big league club, Figgins found himself in a bind.

Figgins has played 630 games at third base, 349 in the outfield, 274 at second base and 27 at shortstop, but he didn't play a single game in 2013.

"It was hard. It was extremely hard, because I had a good spring training. For nothing to open up, it made it extremely tough," Figgins says. "I was staying in shape, because some teams were still calling, and wondering if I would go to minor league extended, or maybe go to Triple-A, and I was OK with going, but there were a lot of uncertainties, as far as getting the opportunity to maybe get called up. I didn't want to go play and have no certainty. I wouldn't do that to a young kid. I wouldn't do that for an uncertainty. I've been around this game too long to do that to a young kid."

So, his wife and his agent suggested a bit of a combine to showcase his still-very-much-there skills.

*****

"It was a high school workout – that's what it was," Figgins laughs. "I ran the 60 twice, I threw from the outfield, I threw from short, from second, third and hit a whole bucket of balls."

Representatives from the vast majority of Major League clubs were present, including the Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins, but it was Los Angeles that called first.

"They actually called that day," Figgins says. "It was a couple hours later, because Vance Lovelace was there, and he called his boss and said, ‘He looked really good. I think we should invite him in,' but then Tampa was there, and I had Joe Madden for years in Anaheim. He called his boss, and was like, ‘Hey, he looks good, maybe we should bring him to camp and see what he could do.' Boston was there, the Twins were there, Cincinnati was there. It just ended up being a situation where the Dodgers were the best fit."

The Dodgers gave him his best chance, the best offer for him to reclaim a spot in the Major Leagues, thanks to manager Don Mattingly.

"It ended up coming down to Tampa and here, because of some things that Don told me, that I had an opportunity to win a spot on the team," says Figgins. "He said I had a spot. Then, Tampa Bay traded for (Logan) Forsythe, with San Diego, and then the Yankees were like, ‘We'll bring you in,' but they signed so many infielders, so that was struck. Then, Boston says, ‘Yeah, we have no problem bringing you in,' but I felt like it was time to just go and pick the Dodgers and try to win a spot on the team."

Figgins hasn't been putting up big numbers – he's hitting just .154 -- but he has changed games with his speed and savvy.

"I just want to see him play," says Mattingly. "I've always liked him, and he gives us a guy that can play everywhere, and knows how to play. The guy's still running good, still moving good. He hadn't played really in a year, so we'll kind of see if we can get that. His at-bats have been pretty good. We'll see. We'll see how it goes."

So far, Figgins has played in six of the Dodgers' seven spring training games, and, despite the numbers, may even have a few more weapons up his sleeve, thanks to one of the great game-disruptors of all time, who just so happens to be a fixture at Dodgers camp: Maury Wills.

"I've heard about him for years and years, as a young player," Figgins says. "Me and Juan Pierre are really close, and he actually got to work with him, and the things he's always said about him, I finally got to meet him, and the first day of bunting, just the technique – at the age of 80 – for him to be able to still have techniques and things that you can do to improve your bunting is huge. You wouldn't expect that his mind could be that sharp at 80, but the things he's still able to talk about, the way he bunted, it's like, wow. He said one day, he's going to get us out there, get all the bunters out there, and show us that he can still do it. It's going to be cool."

Figgins is also locker mates with Gordon, who's played in all seven games, has stolen three bases and driven in three runs. If anything, Figgins has been a helpful, formative influence on the 25-year old shortstop.

And, speaking of infield, Figgins has taken grounders just about everywhere, and while, on first glance, he has no real position track as of yet, Mattingly says that's not entirely the case, especially considering the lack of depth behind Juan Uribe at third and Hanley Ramirez at short, and the competition at second looking like a race between Gordon and Cuban rookie Alex Guerrero, who signed in October for $28 million, a race that's increasingly looking to be Guerrero's to lose.

"A little bit more than ‘hope for the best,' but a little bit of a plan. It's not quite that bad," Mattingly laughs. "As a utility guy, he'll get some looks at second base. That's been an area that we've been looking at. We also know he can play third. We've tried him at short a little bit, and we know he can play the outfield. He'll get specific looks at different areas to see what we think, but for the most part, we're trying to get him at-bats regularly, to get his timing, because he didn't play last year. We're trying to see what he looks like."

From the 5-foot-8 Figgins's point of view, things are certainly looking up, as long as he doesn't get out over his skis, like he did in Seattle.

"For me, it's just stay within myself," he says. "I've done that the first couple games, when I didn't have any hits. I hit some balls well, had some good at-bats, but I needed to stay within myself. I know I'm trying to make a team, and there's not a lot of time, and a lot of guys need to get their at-bats, but I still need to stay within myself."

If he does that, he certainly has a chance to stick around, and that's just fine with him; he was a winner once upon a time, and with the Dodgers, he has a chance to be just that again.

"It's a lot like Anaheim," he says. "There are some great guys in here. We signed some guys that come from other teams that have mixed in well, and it's just a good bunch of guys that are rooting for each other. Everyone's battling for a spot, but guys are rooting for each other, and that's how it should be. You don't root for players to do badly, no, you root for somebody, and that person roots for you the same. It ends up being a good team, gelling, and that's how you win."

Ryan Gorcey publishes BearTerritory.net and GoldenStatePreps.com for Scout.com, and also covers Major League Baseball.

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