Dodgers manager Dave Roberts unceremoniously named his opening day starter this week. It will be Clayton Kershaw. The revelation didn’t shock a soul.
Kershaw was named the starter in March for the team’s original opening day before the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. He has started on opening day for the Dodgers eight times. The ninth, scheduled for July 23 against the San Francisco Giants, will extend his franchise record.
The intrigue lies in Kershaw’s readiness for the outing.
Spring training in normal times is about six weeks long because of starting pitchers, who depend on the monotonous days to carefully build their arm strength with coaches overseeing their every move.
That isn’t an option for this deformed 2020 season. Clubs have three weeks of training camp to prepare for the 60-game campaign. In the end, starting pitchers who stuck to a strict regimen on their own during the league’s shutdown might emerge a step ahead of others. Kershaw is one of those.
Kershaw had the resources to maintain a workout routine at his home gym. He said he pitched a three-inning simulated game in Texas before training camp. His first day at Dodger Stadium he logged four innings. On Monday, he threw four innings in an intrasquad game and tossed a simulated fifth inning in the bullpen.
“I basically have three starts to get ready for the season and I’ll be built up probably to 100 pitches by then,” Kershaw said July 3, the first day of official workouts. “To put it in perspective, I’m probably like towards the middle of March as far as where I should be. And I feel good with it, honestly. I do.”
Roberts said he also expects Alex Wood and Ross Stripling — David Price’s likely replacement in the starting rotation — to have the stamina to throw 100 pitches in their first starts of the season. Wood gave up two runs — on a two-run home run by Joc Pederson — in 5 2/3 innings during Friday’s scrimmage.
Walker Buehler and Julio Urías, however, likely will be behind. Urías made his first appearance in an intrasquad game Friday, throwing three scoreless innings. Urías insisted on Thursday he is healthy. With less than two weeks until the regular season, his first start could be abbreviated.
Buehler appears to be further behind. The budding ace hasn’t appeared in an intrasquad game. It’s not new territory for Buehler; his build-up was also delayed last season.
Roberts on Friday said Buehler is not dealing with any injuries and threw a two-inning simulated game Thursday. He said he expects the 25-year-old right-hander to make his first intrasquad appearance “in the next few days.”
“We’re getting there,” Buehler said last week. “I think traditionally I’m a pretty slow starter. At this time, I always feel like I’m behind everyone.”
The preparation requires a balance between urgency and precaution. This season is expected to test teams’ depth more than any other. Not only could injuries surface from the shortened training camp, but the novel coronavirus looms. A positive test could sideline a player for weeks.
The Dodgers boast a surplus of starting pitching, but Price’s decision not to play this season diminished their leeway. Dustin May, Josiah Gray, and Tony Gonsolin, who reported to camp Wednesday, are highly touted prospects that could be thrust into bigger roles should injuries or illnesses emerge in the starting rotation.
Atop that rotation — after 12 seasons, eight All-Star game appearances, three Cy Young Awards and an NL MVP — still stands Kershaw. And he expects to be 100% ready, even in these unprecedented circumstances, to take the ball again on opening day.
Infielder Gavin Lux, the organization’s top prospect, reported to training camp Friday. Lux was one of six players who hadn’t joined the team since official workouts began July 3. Roberts said he could not disclose why the 22-year-old Lux missed the beginning of camp.
Lux, a favorite for rookie of the year, will compete for the starting job at second base after making his major-league debut and the Dodgers’ postseason roster last season.
The Dodgers added second baseman Michael Busch, outfielder Anthony Garcia, catcher Carson Taylor, and right-handers Landon Knack, Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot, and Edubray Ramos to their player pool Friday, according to MLB’s transactions page.
Garcia, 28, started in right field for the home team in Friday’s scrimmage, but not all seven players have passed the intake screening testing required to join the team. Miller was the Dodgers’ first-round pick in last month’s draft, Knack was one of their second-round picks, and Taylor was taken in the fourth round. Busch was the second of the team’s two first-round selections last year.
Batter’s eye change
The batter’s eye at Dodger Stadium was widened Friday after negative feedback from several players. In a change from previous years, the lower section of pavilion seats on both sides had been partially painted black after the renovations were completed in center field. On Friday, that section was covered by black tarps.
Max Muncy said he was hit on his left ring finger Sunday by a pitch he never saw because of the batter’s eye. He hasn’t appeared in an intrasquad game since the injury.