It’s extremely early to get excited about things that could inherently go wrong down the line for the Dodgers pitching staff, but two things stand out so far. They are happy, and more importantly, healthy.
Happiness probably doesn’t rank high on what fans think should be part of a pitcher’s (or any player, for that matter) condition to play. But while ball players are indeed getting paid to play a kid’s game, being comfortable in your role and job goes a long way to being the best you can be at your job.
We talked on Thursday about Clayton Kershaw, and his multiple offseason hangovers. All the dirt coming out about the 2017 World Series has to have helped ease his mind to finally move on from that Game 5 failure. Along with the long offseason where he had to time to rest and get healthy, he’s ready to face 2020 is a good frame of mind.
So far, there hasn’t been much to worry about with Walker Buehler. He’s been healthy and has pitched well in all of his facets of his major league career. Buehler should be poised to fully take control of the Ace status of the Dodgers pitching staff.
One of these two will be the Opening Day starter. Manager Dave Roberts has said that internally, the decision has been made and announced, but that he didn’t feel the need to announce it publicly. My heart says they will give the honor to Kershaw, but Buehler more than deserves it as as he is now the No. 1 starter, he should be that pitcher to begin the season.
The presumed number three starter, David Price, also seems quite happy with his new role on his new team. He has talked about how he’s learned from his past mistakes, both in pitching and with the media. But his biggest plus this offseason is that he’s finally feeling healthy again. Price had been dealing with extra tissue in his pitching hand due to years of use. He underwent surgery in September to scrape down all of that excess, and the ball is floating out of his hand like it did when he was younger. With the amount of depth the pitching staff has, they can regulate his innings and workload so that he’s ready and healthy for the postseason.
Alex Wood also came (back) into Dodgers camp ready to take over a starting role. 2019 saw Wood traded to Cincinnati, only making seven starts due to back spasms that he couldn’t ever quite recover from. As noted, he spent time with Driveline over the offseason and focused on his health and conditioning. His fastball velocity has been consistently hitting 92-93 MPH. He re-signed with the Dodgers with the caveat that he would be in starting rotation and all indications are he’s looking and feeling good, and will have that fourth starter’s spot.
The Dodgers rotation over the season will be fine. Should any starter here or there falter or hit a little injury, there are so many arms ready to step in and fill in that role. Julio Urías seems to be the one to take the number five slot—that still leaves Ross Stripling, Tony Gonsolin, Jimmy Nelson and Dustin May to be either long relief or to start the season in Triple-A Oklahoma City to be ready when called up. Bill Plunkett of the OC Register today featured an article on Nelson, and how the Dodgers are currently hoping that he may become a Brandon Morrow type of pitcher out of the bullpen. Stripling has been working on another off-speed pitch to compliment his fastball, curve and change up. Pitching coaches, including Orel Hershiser, have been very impressed by what they’ve seen. He may also have picked up a thing or two from Kershaw –
But the most exciting development of all might be that of Kenley Jansen‘s health. In his first outing of 2019 spring training, Kenley’s fastball was sitting at 85-87 MPH. This spring? He’s easily hanging out at 92-93 in his first outing. He struck out two in his first inning of work and looked comfortable doing so. If the Big Man is closer to what he was in 2017, this bullpen is going to be fun to watch again.
Of course, it’s a long season and many things can happen over the next seven months. But with the way things are trending, it’s about time to get excited about Dodger baseball again.