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Micah Johnson fighting to not get lost in Dodgers' second-base shuffle

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Like cars on the 405 at rush hour, all of the Los Angeles Dodgers' second-base options are packed tightly together, leaving little to no wiggle room.

Micah Johnson is wedged into this traffic jam, eager to get to his location, while knowing that patience still can be his best ally.

Traded to the Dodgers this winter from the Chicago White Sox, Johnson is in a fight for a second-base spot on a team that has guys like Howie Kendrick, Chase Utley, Enrique Hernandez and Alex Guerrero already with a track record in the organization.

What can a guy in that kind of situation do? For starters, don't think about it so much.

Johnson said it was his parents who taught him to work hard and not focus on things out of his control. The next lessons that figure to help his cause will revolve around defense and be delivered by Dodgers coaches.

"Every year I performed where I needed to perform at, and wherever they put me I played hard," Johnson said of his time in the White Sox organization. "If they sent me down I played hard. When I was there [in the major leagues], I played hard. Offensively, I know I'm ready. There isn't a doubt. Defensively there are questions, but eventually those will be old news."

Johnson was the White Sox's Opening Day second baseman last season, but by May 12 he was back at Triple-A. That he was hitting .270 at the time of the demotion with a .333 on-base percentage, for a club that was starved for offense, made it obvious that his downfall was defensive.

So Johnson worked on his defense this winter, particularly addressing a hitch in his throws while trying to turn double plays. He knows softer hands would also serve him well.

"I got a ball the other day in the game where I was in the shift, shifted way over, and I was able to field it and turn the double play," said Johnson, who made some adept fielding plays Sunday and went 1-for-3 in his first Cactus League start of the spring. "I was sitting there afterward thinking, last year that might have been a rushed play, or my tempo would have been off, but the experience I gained in the big leagues, with the speed of the game and the gained confidence, it was just a routine play."

Johnson invoked the name of Dee Gordon, which is more than a little interesting since the Dodgers seemed to start stockpiling second basemen after Gordon was traded to the Miami Marlins in December 2014. And all Gordon has done since he left was win a Gold Glove and a batting title in South Beach.

There were questions about Gordon's defense, too, and there was talk about turning him into an outfielder. Perhaps it's not a coincidence, then, that Johnson is already taking fly balls in center field.

"You just have to keep working," Johnson says, confirming his takeaway from the Gordon story. "Some guys don't have the gifted hands like Juan Castro or even [the White Sox's] Carlos Sanchez, so we have to work at it a little more."

Johnson has heard all the talk about his defense. And he has read the stories ... or at least he used to.

"I don't go home and read articles anymore," he said. "There is no point."

Sure, some of them might detail your flaws, but it's not all doom and gloom.

"Micah is a dynamic player, he's an interesting player," manager Dave Roberts said. "He is continuing to work on the defense and he's taking balls in center field. He can run. He has that dynamic speed that we really don't have, so a lot of times young players start to get ahead of themselves. We've talked about how it's just a matter of him performing."

At this point last year, Johnson was in the midst of achieving a dream, as he would ultimately start the season on a major league roster. Then came the demotion. Then came the trade.

The caps of the two organizations Johnson has played for are colored black and blue. Bruised. It would seem fitting, but Johnson isn't looking for a metaphor.

He looks around the Dodgers' clubhouse, at the players he could view as competition. There is no easy road ahead. But he sees a setting worth embracing.

"It's great," Johnson said. "It's not relaxed, we practice with so much intensity, but you are allowed to be yourself. There is no micromanaging, it's just, 'Go play.' Everybody is here to work. Everybody is working every second of the day here."

That's not a knock on the White Sox, or even any different than what he experienced in Chicago. It's more about Johnson accepting change and making the best of a bumper-to-bumper situation that might only get tougher as the spring continues.

"Over here they see you differently now," Johnson said when asked if he thinks it will help him now that new eyes are upon him. "Those guys over there [with the White Sox], they saw me struggle, they saw where I came in at, so they always have that to compare to. Maybe the organization saw that in rookie ball, I couldnt make this play or that play, and that's always in their head. Here it's a fresh start. They're just seeing how you came over. I wanted to come over in my best form, which I am in right now."