MIAMI -- With 29-year-old Hanley Ramirez getting Thursday off, manager Don Mattingly had 35-year-old Nick Punto starting at shortstop, and Mattingly said he's fine with that.
"My theory is, Chihuahuas live longer than bigger dogs," Mattingly joked. "They stay faster longer. Little dogs live longer."
It's rare for a player who sees increased playing time at shortstop when he reaches his mid-30s. Usually, that's the time veterans are moved off the position.
But Punto is an exception. He will play more games at shortstop than any other position this year for the first time since 2008. Punto might have seemed a throw-in to last year's blockbuster that also brought Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers from Boston, but that's not the way Mattingly sees it now.
"I don't know if we really knew what we had when we got Nick," said Mattingly. "He didn't play all that much with Boston and he had been hurt. But to see him in Spring Training and to use him with what we had to do early this year, we've seen him play everywhere. He doesn't throw a ball away, knock on wood. He's just solid. He's got range and he's still moving good."
Punto credits his longevity to an offseason regimen of biometric conditioning that emphasizes speed and agility as much as strength.
"The training is more intense than when I first got to the Major Leagues," Punto said. "I feel I do a really good job in the offseason. I could play every day if I had to. Shortstop is the most demanding position and I take pride that I can still play it."
Wilson makes Dodgers debut, closes out win
MIAMI -- There's a scar across his elbow and Dodgers blue across his jersey, but Brian Wilson said it was business as usual Thursday.
He pitched the ninth inning, his first Major League game since Tommy John surgery last season and first as a Dodger. He had a six-run lead, so there was no save in the balance, but he described it in a word rarely associated with his eccentric persona.
"It was normal," said the bearded and mohawked former Giants closer. "Long overdue. It's been a very arduous process. I'm glad I went through it. I appreciate this more."
Wilson opened with slugger Giancarlo Stanton and caught him looking at an inside slider after throwing a 94-mph fastball by him. Pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs tried to spoil the event with a two-out double, but former Dodgers farmhand Justin Ruggiano struck out to end the ninth.
"I felt like I hadn't skipped a beat," said Wilson. "I guess I was more nervous and excited in the bullpen."
He said he wasn't really worried whether he would succeed on the mound, considering the long road he's already traveled success in itself.
"I only have a brief moment out there and I can either crumble or rise to the occasion," he said. "Crumbling, I don't want to do, so I have to rise to the occasion. I am fortunate to come back and get in a game. If you want to talk checklist, I guess this is the final check.
"I ran out there like I have dozens of times. Head down, at a certain angle until I get to the dirt, walk in, grab the ball. I didn't treat it as special. I've had 17 months to think about it and got over it three or four weeks after the surgery, a time to reflect on all the negativity."
His new teammates were happy for him, and for them, because he's expected to provide unflappable experience when the pressure gets cranked up in September and October.
"He just came in throwing strikes," said manager Don Mattingly. "It was pretty impressive. He hasn't been on the mound in a Major League game in quite awhile. It's hard to know what he's going to be. He was throwing strikes and his stuff seemed sharp."
"He's somebody that can help us out," said catcher A.J. Ellis. "He has a great demeanor on the mound. He got the last out in the World Series [in 2010]. He won't get rattled in tough situations."
"I was really happy for him," said Clayton Kershaw. "It's not easy to be gone two years. I'm sure there were nerves for him. It's cool to see him make it all the way back. He's a good guy who works hard. He fits right in this clubhouse."
Puig back in lineup after experiencing dehydration
MIAMI -- Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was back in the starting lineup Thursday after apparently experiencing dehydration Wednesday night.
Manager Don Mattingly said the reason for Puig's limping while he ran Wednesday night was calf cramps. Mattingly said Puig received intravenous fluids after the game and was likely to receive them again before Thursday's game.
"They [trainers] said he's fine," Mattingly said. "We just tell him to be under control."
Although Puig homered Tuesday night after entering the game in a double switch, that's the only hit in his last 18 at-bats.
Withrow relishing new opportunity in bullpen
MIAMI -- A first-round Draft pick earmarked to be an ace starting pitcher, maybe the last place Chris Withrow expected to make a mark in the Major Leagues was as a relief specialist for pitching out of jams.
But that's what he is in the Dodgers current bullpen, with a 2.25 ERA in 16 appearances..
"I definitely agree with that," said Withrow, who languished in the Minor League system for 6 ½ seasons years before his first callup June 11. "As a starter, I was up and down. But as a reliever, I got with Chuck [Crim, current bullpen coach] and learned a new mentality of going in and attacking."
Throughout his starting career, the hard-throwing Withrow was dogged by wildness and an inability to retain his stuff late in games. He made the transition to the bullpen last year.
"I never looked at it like a demotion, that's a negative way to look at it," he said. "I took it as a challenge, to see if I can do this. Guys have had successful careers and made this move."
He said that as a starter, he "was so caught up in trying to make perfect pitches. Chuck helped me simplify things, attack the zone and make the hitter hit my pitch."
His theory on why he's been able to strand all nine runners he's inherited?
"Maybe I put myself in so many sticky situations that I maybe gained confidence that I was capable of getting out of them," he said. "When I do come in, I always know I'm one pitch from a double-play ball."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.