VERO BEACH, Fla. -- When the topic of how many positions he can play was broached, Mark DeRosa shrugged and offered a knowing smile.
"I really feel I can handle every one," he said.
"I said handle them," he said, "not excel at them."
DeRosa is certainly qualified to speak as a jack-of-all-trades. He has already played three infield positions and the outfield during his young career, which spans a mere 100 games over parts of four seasons.
Granted, he doesn't have a position to call his own. Rather, he's the Atlanta Braves' version of John Havlicek, who defined the role of sixth man during the Boston Celtics' heyday three decades ago.
"We've asked him to play everywhere the last two years," manager Bobby Cox said. "If you're a good athlete you can do it, and he's an exceptional one."
DeRosa, former Penn quarterback, demonstrated his versatility last summer when shortstop Rafael Furcal dislocated his shoulder. Cox gave him the job and he responded with solid play, leading several players to privately question why the team dealt for veteran shortstop Rey Sanchez at the trading deadline.
Sanchez is gone, but Furcal is back, forcing Cox to be inventive this spring in finding DeRosa work. He has used him almost everywhere except pitcher and catcher, and it remains DeRosa's fervent wish to one day play all nine positions.
"They're finding ways to get me out on the field," said the 27-year-old DeRosa. "I could just be Furcal's backup and that would be the end of it, but Bobby (Cox) has trust in me to go out to all these different positions.
"It's saying something when you can go out to center field and no one even notices."
DeRosa has always been a solid hitter, but in the last two years he's worked hard to polish his defense. He finished with a .287 batting average last year, but more importantly, showed the team he can handle day-to-day duties of the most demanding position on the diamond.
"He's come a long ways," Cox said. "He's made himself a good player."
DeRosa, in the best shape of his career after spending the winter sharpening the lines on his sculpted body, figures to fill in around the infield this season, mostly at shortstop and second, and serve as a righthanded pinch hitter. That's not the recipe for a lot of playing time, but if the last two years have taught him anything, it's patience.
"I've got a phenom (Furcal) in front of me," DeRosa said. "I'm at the point in my career where I'm just excited to be part of the big league club and accepting of the role that's been handed to me.
"I hope one day I'm a starter for this team. That's what I would like to have happen, but I'm willing to wait."
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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