Dodgers open season already hard hit by injuries
LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Dodgers are betting on their depth getting them to the playoffs. They just weren't counting on needing it to start the season.
The three-time NL West champions were hard-hit by injuries this spring, leaving the starting rotation behind three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw in disarray. The starting lineup is riddled with aches and pains.
Dave Roberts figures to wear out pencils filling out lineup cards in his managerial debut. He replaces Don Mattingly, who left after the Dodgers lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Instead of boasting baseball's highest payroll for the second straight year, the Dodgers have cut nearly $40 million in salaries and will have an estimated opening day payroll of $234.7 million.
Kershaw is the team's lone ace now that Zack Greinke is gone to division rival Arizona after signing a $206.5 million deal. Starters Hyun-Jin Ryu (left shoulder), Brett Anderson (lower back) and Brandon McCarthy are hurt. Ryu won't be ready until May, Anderson is out until possibly the All-Star break and McCarthy (elbow) is on the 60-day DL.
Anderson was the only other starter besides Kershaw and Greinke with a winning record last season.
The fourth and fifth starters are up for grabs. Japanese starter Kenta Maeda will be under pressure to come through immediately for his new team. Scott Kazmir will try to avoid the injury bug that has plagued him in the past.
The lineup will be comprised of moving parts early on. Andre Ethier was set to be the starter in left field until he fouled off a pitch this spring and broke his right leg. He'll be sidelined until at least June or July, creating a potential platoon of Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke. Catcher Yasmani Grandal is a question mark for opening day with a strained right forearm.
Second baseman Howie Kendrick will stay at camp in Arizona to nurse a calf injury. Right fielder Yasiel Puig has been nagged by a hamstring strain.
The Dodgers won 92 games last season under new president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi. They were unsuccessful in keeping Greinke and chose not to go after another high-priced pitcher like David Price or Cole Hamels.
Instead, the front office is taking comfort in the knowledge that the organization's farm system is stocked with enviable prospects, including pitchers Jose De Leon and Julio Urias. Clearly, Friedman and Zaidi hope to hold on to their burgeoning young talent while riding out the current wave of injuries.
The Dodgers open the season on April 4 at San Diego to start a seven-game road trip. Their home opener is April 12 against Arizona, making it likely they will face Greinke as soon as the second week of the season.
Here are some things to watch.
COREY SEAGER: The 21-year-old Seager will be the team's first rookie shortstop since Jose Offerman in 1991. He hits for average and power, with scouts pegging him as a future big run producer. At 6-foot-4, he's just quick enough at his position. Seager showed promise as a September call-up last year, hitting .337 in 27 games, and now he'll have a full season to display his coveted talent.
SHUT `EM DOWN: Closer Kenley Jansen was 36 for 38 in save chances last season and the hard-throwing right-hander figures to be dominant again. He has averaged 14 strikeouts per nine innings over his six-year career. After Jansen, the bullpen lacks proven setup men and Roberts will be challenged in finding a way to get from his starters to his closer. Left-hander J.P. Howell had a 1.43 ERA last season. The rest of the relief corps converted just eight of 26 save chances with a 4.37 ERA last year.
POTENT OFFENSE: Veteran Adrian Gonzalez anchors an impressive hitting lineup. He batted .275 with 28 home runs and 90 RBIs last season. The 33-year-old first baseman is approaching 300 homers and 1,110 RBIs in his career. Justin Turner has hit .314 since joining the Dodgers two years ago, and last season he did well playing regularly at third base. Second baseman Kike Hernandez hit .307 last year while center fielder Joc Pederson hit .210 with 26 homers and 54 RBIs.
NEW SKIPPER: Roberts was hired for his first big-league job as skipper after spending the last six years as an instructor or coach. He's well-liked and is impressive as a communicator and a leader. He appears to buy into the analytics espoused by the front office, which Mattingly didn't seem to embrace as much. Just how well Roberts handles the expectations of a World Series-starved fan base and the weight of the club's high payroll remains to be seen.
VIN SCULLY: The 88-year-old Hall of Fame broadcaster heads into his 67th and final season in the booth. He plans to work opening day in San Diego and all 81 home games. He's planning on calling a three-game series at San Francisco to end the regular season in early October. Thousands of Dodgers fans in Los Angeles have been prevented from hearing Scully on TV the last two years because of an ongoing distribution dispute between Time Warner Cable, which carries the channel owned by the Dodgers, and other pay TV providers. The team and Time Warner are using Scully's farewell as a ploy to end the disagreement.