LOS ANGELES (AP) — Five things to know about the Los Angeles Dodgers as they start spring training camp:
ACES ARE WILD: Led by LHP Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers have one of baseball’s best rotations. They recently locked up the two-time Cy Young Award winner with a $215 million, seven-year contract. Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu will be the top three starters again. They could be joined by Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley, who are both coming off surgeries. The fifth spot is up for grabs, and vying for it will be new addition RHP Dan Haren, a three-time All-Star in the past. The bullpen is impressive, too. Primary closers Kenley Jansen and Brian Wilson return, along with setup man J.P. Howell. New to the mix are Chris Perez, a five-time All-Star with Cleveland, and 39-year-old Jamey Wright.
PUIG’S BACK: Yasiel Puig returns after a sensational season in which he was runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award. Just how much the 23-year-old Cuban defector has matured remains to be seen. He was twice arrested for reckless driving last year, when his effort on the field came into question at times. Puig will be eager to erase the memory of going 5-for-22 with 10 strikeouts and committing defensive miscues against St. Louis in the NL championship series. He brings an infectious energy and enthusiasm to the team, and is a fan favorite. But the Dodgers want to see Puig grow up, be consistent and show better judgment on and off the field.
CROWD IN THE OUTFIELD: Manager Don Mattingly faces a juggling act with four stellar outfielders in Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. Kemp is rehabbing from offseason surgeries on his left shoulder and ankle, and may not be ready in time for opening day in Australia. That would make it easier on Mattingly early on, but when all four are healthy, someone’s not going to be happy about getting a day off. Like Kemp, Crawford and Ethier battled injuries last season, so it’s likely Mattingly would want to give the trio occasional days off, which would ease the logjam.
WHO’S ON SECOND?: With a $28 million, four-year deal in hand, Alexander Guerrero ultimately figures to be the everyday second baseman. But the 27-year-old Cuban hasn’t played much organized baseball in the last year, so he might not be ready for opening day in Australia. A three-time All-Star in Cuba’s top pro league, he played sparingly in the Dominican winter league because of a hamstring injury. He could be sent to the minors to get playing time. That would leave SS Dee Gordon as the other option on the roster to replace the departed Mark Ellis. Gordon figures to secure a utility role on the team, having played some outfield in winter league ball. Chone Figgins and John McDonald both signed minor league contracts and could make the team as utility infielders. Either could play second if Guerrero isn’t ready.
GETTING AN EARLY START: The Dodgers will break camp earlier than usual in order to make the long trip to Australia, where they will play Major League Baseball’s season opener against Arizona. The teams will play a two-game series in Sydney on March 22-23, MLB’s first regular-season games in that part of the world. After leaving Down Under, the Dodgers head to San Diego to start MLB’s North American portion of the schedule on March 30. That’s a day earlier than most other big league teams open. Even with an early start to spring training, it remains to be seen whether everyone is ready physically to open the season well before other teams. Last year, INF Hanley Ramirez got hurt in the World Baseball Classic and wasn’t ready to start the season. That prompted OF Matt Kemp to hurry back before he was entirely ready, and he was on and off the disabled list during the season.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)