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3/17/2013 8:25 P.M. ET

Crawford's spring debut comes as designated hitter

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Carl Crawford made his long-awaited Cactus League debut for the Dodgers on Sunday, going 0-for-3 as the designated hitter in the club's split-squad game at home against the Brewers.

Crawford said he was "a little bit" nervous for his first game since last year. He said he remains determined to be ready for Opening Day, and manager Don Mattingly said it was a possibility that Crawford could be on the active roster for pinch-hitting even if his surgically repaired left arm isn't ready for throws from the outfield.

"I'm definitely trying to make it back by Opening Day," said Crawford, who grounded out twice and popped out. "Will that happen? I don't know, but it's definitely something I want to do.

"To have something taken away, I've been out so long, I definitely have an appreciation for playing," he said. "I'll take the good and the bad to be out there again."

Crawford -- acquired last August in the blockbuster trade with the Red Sox two days after he underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction -- was expected to have played sooner, but he suffered a setback in his rehab three weeks ago when he developed nerve irritation in the elbow. He believes that was the result of overwork and said he's cut back "a little bit."

Crawford is expected to continue as DH for a couple more games, at least. He has resumed throwing and said he's back up to 90 feet, the same distance at which he suffered his setback earlier this month.

After being shut down for a week while taking anti-inflammatory medication, Crawford resumed hitting, then throwing, and has had no further irritation. He had been serving as designated hitter in Minor League games for the last four days.

Meanwhile, he continues rebuilding arm strength for throwing, which is the highest hurdle to clear for an Opening Day start. There has been no indication when he will be allowed to play the field in a game.

As the left fielder, Crawford generally just needs to hit the cutoff man, and once he's cleared by the medical department, the Dodgers apparently are willing to make that defensive sacrifice to get his offensive package atop the batting order.

"I want to throw, but I don't know how the first long throw will feel," he said. "I'm leaving this up to the trainers and follow their guide."

Catcher A.J. Ellis said Crawford's presence was a boost.

"It was a great lift to the team to see his name in the lineup," Ellis said.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.