The Dodgers just had their first day off of spring training, but some were playing games anyway — just not with the Dodgers. Various players were off competing for their native countries in the World Baseball Classic. There are thoughts against letting MLB players play in this tournament, as risk of injury is always high on the list. I’m sure we all remember Hanley Ramirez and his thumb injury in 2013. But for some players, it’s a way to represent their country, while also working on their skills for the upcoming season.
Working on your skills is what Spring Training is for, of course. Some players don’t need it at all (see: Clayton Kershaw, who has yet to give up a hit this spring). I kid, of course. Pitchers use it to define a certain pitch, strengthen their mechanics, and build up to being able to go long into a game. Batters use it to see pitches better, work on their long or short swing, or maybe trying to hit the ball to one spot in the park or another.
Maybe the most important aspect of spring training is whittling down the 40-man roster. With a team as deep as the Dodgers, that’s no easy task. Starting rotation, utility men and bench guys are all still to be determined.
So what does it mean if you have a bad spring training? Does it translate into a bad season? Last year, Scott Kazmir had a less than stellar spring training, and he had a less than stellar year, with a 4.56 ERA and only 136.1 innings pitched, his lowest total since his rookie year. That was thanks to injuries, and he’s already been taken out of a game this spring due to concern over his hip. Time will tell if this is a bad omen for Kaz yet again.
So far this spring, old/newcomer Franklin Gutierrez has not gotten a hit in his 19 at-bats.
“Every spring is different, but nothing like this before,” Gutierrez said. “I know it will be fine. It will come pretty soon. Repetition is the key. As soon as I get the first one, the hits will come.”
Manager Dave Roberts echoed his sentiments. “With a guy like Gutty, it doesn’t take much for him to find his stroke. A lot of veteran players start slow. He’ll get there.”
Rich Hill is also not having a great spring. So far, he has a 12.60 ERA, and was removed in the second inning in his last outing. Last year, his spring training ERA was 11.25. While 2016 was marred by his blister injury, he ended the season with a 2.12 ERA and good starts in the postseason.
Being a veteran, Gutierrez may have the benefit of the doubt. But otherwise, players may not. Andrew Toles burst on the scene last season, but is having a rough time this spring, battling a sore knee and hitting only .188 and showing some miscues in the outfield. One wonders whether Toles is pressing too much while trying to show that last year wasn’t a fluke, or if it’s just a slow start, or last year was an aberration. He may very well end back in Oklahoma City to start the year to figure it out.
This may be especially true because other outfielders are having a great spring. Andre Ethier, after injuring himself last spring and overcoming recent back spasms, is looking solid. He’s batting a robust .444 with six walks and a homer. Small sample to be sure, but good news nonetheless. Rob Segedin is doing well also, both for the Dodgers and for Team Italy. He has hit a home run with both teams. Newcomer Brett Eibner is also looking good, with a .333 BA, three doubles, a triple and a homer. He may be taking Toles spot on the roster.
There are things that coaches see that we as fans don’t. Bad numbers at the plate or from the mound may not matter to them, for they are concentrating on a different aspect of the game. They know whether a good or bad spring training means anything at all. It seems a bit of a crapshoot to me. The Dodgers staff have a tough task ahead of them, and I don’t envy them.
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