Season (re)-Opening preview: Dodgers back in action vs. Padres
Start time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Starting pitchers: Hyun-jin Ryu vs. Andrew Cashner
After a week-long hiatus, the 2014 regular season resumes with the second of the season's four Opening Days; never let it be said that MLB doesn't like to drag out a good thing. Once again, the Dodgers are set to be part of the festivities. They're back from their two-game sweep of the Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia.
The top-ranked team in our season preview, the Dodgers had hoped that the trip Down Under and the subsequent hiatus — which saw them play their three-game exhibition Freeway Series against the Angels from Thursday to Saturday — would allow them to squeeze in an extra start from Clayton Kershaw. Alas, the 30-hour round trip appears to have thrown a wrench into their plans and his back. Kershaw underwent an MRI on Wednesday that revealed inflammation of his Teres Major muscle, forcing the team to scratch him from the start; when he had to cut short Saturday's throwing session on flat ground, the Dodgers decided to place the 26-year-old reigning Cy Young winner on the disabled list for the first time in his career. The problem isn't believed to be serious, but the retroactive stint means that he won't return to action before April 8.
Starting in his place will be Hyun-jin Ryu, who shut out the Diamondbacks over five innings in the second game of the Sydney series, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out five over the course of 87 pitches. He left the game with the Dodgers leading 5-0; they expanded their margin to 7-0 before a bullpen meltdown narrowed the score to 7-5. The 27-year-old South Korean southpaw is coming off a strong first season in the majors, having delivered a neat 3.00 ERA with 7.2 strikeouts per nine across 192 innings. He faced the Padres only once last year, scattering eight hits across 6 1/3 innings while holding San Diego to one run on August 30 in Dodger Stadium. The only Padre to collect an extra base hit against him, Logan Forsythe, is now a Tampa Bay Ray.
The Dodgers are still without Matt Kemp, who began the year on the disabled list and didn't make the trip to Australia. Having undergone shoulder and ankle surgeries back in October, he's been on his own timetable all spring; there's hope that he could be ready for the April 4 home opener, but the Dodgers' track record in anticipating his availability has been so inaccurate that there's little reason to take that as a guarantee. In the meantime, Carl Crawford is back from the paternity leave that prevented him from traveling to Sydney, and with righty Andrew Cashner on the mound, he's expected to start in leftfield with Andre Ethier in center and Yasiel Puig in right. Puig went 3-for-5 with a double and two RBI in the team's second game but didn't take the field in the bottom of the ninth after striking out in the top half, and though critical comments from manager Don Mattingly have once again placed him at the center of controversy, the two are said to have cleared the air in a team meeting.
Going for the Padres is the 27-year-old Cashner, who's coming off his first full major league season, one in which he finally showed he could handle a starter's workload. In 26 starts and five relief appearances covering 175 innings, he delivered a 3.09 ERA. While he only struck out 6.6 per nine and reaped the benefits of excellent defensive support (.273 BABIP), his 0.6 homers allowed per nine was good enough to crack the league's top 10. With Josh Johnson starting the year on the disabled list due to a forearm strain, the Padres need Cashner and Ian Kennedy to step up if they're going to live up to the promise that vaulted them to 13th in our season preview series on the heels of a rather disappointing 76-win season.
Alas, the Padres' lineup comes in at considerably less than full strength as well, particularly in the outfield, where both Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin are on the disabled list to start the year. Maybin ruptured his left biceps tendon in early March and will miss two or three months, while Quentin is still hampered by a bone bruise on his left knee, suffered while making a diving catch on March 16. The DL is nothing new for either player; wrist and knee injuries limited Maybin to 14 games in 2013, while Quentin has played in just 168 games over the past two years and an average of 104 over the past seven due to a variety of injuries. As if those weren't bad enough, Will Venable missed the team's final two exhibition games this weekend due to a back issue, and at the time of this writing it's still unclear whether he'll be in the lineup against Ryu. The injuries led the Padres to head north with both veteran Xavier Nady (last seen on the MLB scene hitting .184/.253/.316 in 2012) and rookie Tommy Medica, who played 19 games after being called up in September.
The good news for the Padres is that they do have both Yasmani Grandal and Everth Cabrera back on the roster. Grandal tore the ACL in his right knee in early July last year and underwent surgery a month later. The Padres brought him along slowly this spring, and he isn't ready to catch back-to-back games yet, so they've rostered both Nick Hundley and Rene Rivera for the time being; the latter will get the start on Sunday night. Cabrera missed the final 50 games of the season due to a Biogenesis-related suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Meanwhile, Chase Headley is back around full strength after being slowed for a few weeks by a late February calf strain. Sunday night's game is the first of a three-game set, though the two teams will be off Monday while 25 teams enjoy their Opening Days. The Diamondbacks swing back into action as well, while the Yankees and Astros will be the last teams to open; they won't play their first game of the year until Tuesday. For the remainder of the Dodgers-Padres series, Zack Greinke is lined up to face Ian Kennedy on Tuesday, while Dan Haren is slated to face Tyson Ross on Wednesday.