Last year, a few stubborn fans who didn’t care to comprehend simple math believed it to be a season-long jinx. But only ten games into the 2017 campaign, the struggles the Dodgers have been wrestling with against left-handed pitching have become so obvious that other teams are realigning their pitching rotation when they see a series vs. Los Angeles appear on their respective schedules.
So far during the young 2017 season, one of the more common lineup themes of the Dodgers has been to employ utility man Enrique Hernandez in center field against left-handed pitching, while stashing away Joc Pederson on the pine for possible appearances later in games against righty pitching, or for his skills as a defensive replacement.
With all the endless discussions currently in the news surrounding the prospective layouts of the club’s Opening Day 25-man roster, many fans of the Dodgers can’t help but envision the overwhelming amount of depth and skill lurking on the fringe of the bigs at Triple-A Oklahoma City. If the major league squad stays relatively healthy and productive throughout the regular season, the crew at OKC will not only possess some of the best player talent in the Pacific Coast League, but will also be almost untouchable en route to yet another American Northern divisional crown.
One of several highlights during Tuesday’s annual Cactus League media day occurred when GM Farhan Zaidi suggested that the Dodgers intend to find more days off for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez over the course of the regular season.
The Dodgers finally have their second baseman. With the addition of Logan Forsythe, the infield is finally complete. Manager Dave Roberts has says that he would like to use Forsythe as his primary leadoff batter. So what will the rest of the lineup behind him look like?
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Depending on how the dust settles on all of the Dodgers‘ trade ventures at the end of the winter, Los Angeles should have at least several viable options to hit at the top of the batting order in 2017, creating more mathematically favorable alternatives when writing out the lineup cards.
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The good news surrounding the four-game weekend series against the Diamondbacks is that the Dodgers will be taking hacks against three right-handed pitchers, with the lone southpaw coming in the form of Robbie Ray in the finale on Sunday.
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(Editor’s note: A more recent update regarding Andre Ethier’s injury was compiled on March 22)
Dodgers fans watching Friday’s Cactus League game against the Diamondbacks endured a bit of a scare in the fourth inning, as fan favorite Andre Ethier fouled a ball off his right leg and was eventually carted to the clubhouse.
Ethier was facing Arizona starter Zack Godley when he ripped a foul off the inside of his right shin. He fell to the ground and wavered with pain until trainer Neil Rampe and manager Dave Roberts arrived at his side.
Ethier was able to finish the at-bat and draw a walk, but was replaced by pinch-runner Rico Noel, who advanced to second on a wild pitch, stole third and scored on a throwing error by Arizona catcher Welington Castillo.
Upon exiting the game, he limped noticeably to the Dodgers’ dugout, and ultimately needed the assistance of a golf cart to make it to the center field clubhouse.
Later Friday evening, X-rays taken on Ethier’s leg came back negative, but he’ll remain day-to-day with a severe bruise.
Upon observing the incident and seeing Ethier carted off the field, Roberts was immediately concerned.
“Just to see him work every day and how he prepares himself is pretty impressive, really,” Roberts told Doug Padilla of ESPN. “And he plays the game the right way. Just seeing him work every day I have grown to appreciate what kind of player he is. Obviously, again, I’m hopeful that there is no fracture or anything like that. We’ll see what happens.”
Ethier hit leadoff on Friday for the second time in three days for the Dodgers, and may be considered one of several options to bat first when the regular season begins on April 4. In more than 1,400 career regular season games since debuting with the Dodgers in 2006, he’s hit out of every spot in the order except leadoff.
Ethier ended up going 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored on Friday. So far this spring he’s hit safely in nine of his 10 games, going 10-for-23 (.435) with a .652 OBP and a .517 slugging percentage. He also has one home run, a triple and four walks to his credit. In his two games batting leadoff, he is 2 for 4 with two walks.
The 34-year old outfielder hit .294 in 2015, the best clip since his 2008 season, and collected 54 RBIs and 13 home runs, both his highest since 2012.
Whether it’s a mandate that trickled down from the front office, a decision that Manager Dave Roberts arrived upon himself, or a collaboration between the two, it was revealed on Tuesday that the Dodgers tentatively plan on rotating numerous players at the leadoff spot in the batting order when regular season play begins in April.
Doug Padilla of ESPN recently pointed out that everyone from Howie Kendrick to Carl Crawford to Joc Pederson to Corey Seager to Enrique Hernandez could have the leadoff job at some point, and that Roberts appears to be fully on board with the sabermetric philosophies of the front office.
“You know what, I think that as a former leadoff hitter, we have all been conditioned for routines and consistency, but I think that as this game has evolved, we’ve all had to see things in a different way,” Roberts said. “I’ve had many conversations with the players that there will be some change. I think that where you hit in the order in years past, in decades past, there is a lot to be said for that. But this day and age, with the data that we have, sometimes change is good.”
Padilla also indicated that Roberts will use advanced analytics to determine who hits where throughout the entire lineup — not just with the leadoff spot.
Kendrick seems to be the favorite to command most of the repetitions hitting first in the batting order. As early as the Dodgers’ first Cactus League matchup against the White Sox last week, Roberts believed Kendrick would be in the mix for the leadoff role. Per Eric Stephen of True Blue LA:
Back in January, TBPC discussed the logistics of the modern leadoff batter, and concluded that players who get on base more frequently and hit the ball harder are actually more beneficial to a team’s success than the traditional speed burner, adding that both Pederson and Yasiel Puig had the tools to productively slot into the Dodgers’ leadoff role.
Ken Gurnick of MLB.com specified that in 2014, the last year of the Ned Colletti regime, the Dodgers used six different leadoff hitters. Dee Gordon hit first in the lineup the most, leading off in 133 games total, while the team used 142 different lineups during the entirety of the season.
Last season, the first under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers used 12 different leadoff hitters. The club used 137 different lineups altogether, tied for seventh-most in the bigs. Pederson led off the most times, starting 69 games batting first.
Many fans will argue that continuity and team chemistry could possibly be affected by the revolving batting orders and potential positional platoons, but Roberts seems to have a firm grasp on the strategies for the upcoming campaign.
“There is an argument to be made for (continuity), but regardless of where an individual hits in the lineup, it shouldn’t change how they are as a hitter,” Roberts said. “Adrian (Gonzalez), if he hits third or fourth, he is going to be Adrian. Whether Howie hits first or second, or he hits fifth, he should be the same hitter. I think Chase (Utley) will be the same way. If you look at the guys on our roster, that’s the way that should be.”
Roberts will have until the end of the month to experiment and analyze which lineup combinations will be best for the club to begin the season. New base coaches George Lombard and Chris Woodward also bring fresh perspectives in terms of enhancing baserunning skills and improving run production.
The Dodgers open the season against the Padres on April 4 in San Diego.
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