Wills, who works with Dodgers players during spring training on bunting and baserunning, was immediately impressed with what he saw from Pierre despite a career on-base percentage (.350) below the optimum for a leadoff man. Wills said Pierre already is an excellent bunter who could improve that OBP by bunting for more hits. “He had 16 (bunt singles) last year, and that’s not enough,” Wills said. “A player like him should have 20-25. He hit .292 last year. If he just had four more bunt hits, he could have easily been close to .300. That could have led to who knows how many more runs, because scoring runs is the key thing.” “There are nine different ways you can score from third base that you can’t score from second, including passed balls, wild pitches and sacrifice flies,” Wills said. “It also puts pressure on the third baseman and shortstop on a groundball because they know they have to come up with it, and it takes the breaking ball in the dirt away from the pitcher. “But you need to be successful 19 out of 20 times stealing third to justify it and about eight out of 10 times stealing second,” Wills said. “The year I stole 104 bases, I was 31 of 32 stealing third. The one time I got caught I came back to the dugout and everyone looked at me like I was crazy.” Late innings: Little said, barring injury or ineffectiveness, Takashi Saito will remain the club’s closer no matter how well the fireballing Jonathan Broxton might fare as the primary setup man. But with Saito having turned 37 last week, Little didn’t rule out using Broxton to close selected games if Saito needs a break. “If everyone is healthy, I think it will be hard for us to think about making a change,” Little said. “If we have to use Saito three days in a row, a lot will depend on what happens in those three games. There were some games last year when he came in and threw eight or ninepitches and the game was over. But there also were times when he threw 25 or 30pitches.” Broxton has long been considered the Dodgers’ closer of the future. While he still is just 22 and has yet to spend a full season in the majors, his spot on the Opening Day roster is all but a lock. Knowing that, Broxton has brought a slightly different approach to camp, trying simply to prepare for the season instead of impressing the organizational brass. “Last year, I tried to go out and turn heads and show everyone what I could do,” said Broxton, who didn’t make the club out of spring training but was promoted to the majors for good May 1. “This year, I’m going to wait until the (Grapefruit League) games start to turn it up.” Another catcher: Tony Harper, who had been ticketed for minor-league camp after hitting .287 for Single-A Columbus last season, was invited to the big-league side to help catch side sessions. The Dodgers have seven catchers in camp, but won’t keep more than two for the season. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! VERO BEACH, Fla. – Although Dodgers manager Grady Little remains tight-lipped on whether the newly signed Juan Pierre will bat first or second, one of the greatest leadoff hitters in the game’s history said Monday that the fleet center fielder would be a perfect fit at the top. “It’s the manager’s decision, of course, and we all know that,” Maury Wills said. “But I think Juan is a natural leadoff hitter.”
Pierre also had 10 successful sacrifices with the Chicago Cubs last season. Wills said Pierre knows far more about proper bunting techniques than the average player. “He already knew that if you want a hard bunt, you don’t move your hands as far up and that for a softer one you move them 3 or 4 inches farther up the bat,” Wills said. “I started to tell him the other day that when you bunt, you’re not necessarily looking for a strike. I said, `You’re looking for something …’ and before I could finish my sentence, he said, `Something I can handle.’ Even if it’s off the plate a little bit, you might be able to get in front of a changeup and deaden it on the grass.” Although Pierre tied for second in the majors with 58 steals last year, he also was caught 20times, and Wills wants him to improve that success ratio. Wills also has stressed to Pierre the importance of stealing third whenever the opportunity presents itself.