It’s only spring training. It’s the refrain to temper expectations of a player scorching it in the exhibition season and to shrug off a veteran struggling.
But spring training is serious stuff when you’re trying to make the club or earn a starting spot. The Dodgers have plenty of that going on in their bullpen, and one serious position battle.
So from their perspective, these games do matter, and it is why the Dodgers splitting a pair of games Sunday -- defeating the Rangers, 10-5, at Camelback Ranch and losing to the Giants, 11-9, in Scottsdale -- were still noteworthy.
The Dodgers have twice as many relievers as spots in the bullpen. With only a week remaining until the start of the season, the Dodgers would like to see players begin to separate themselves.
So Carlos Frias’ fleeting hopes of making the team as a swing man were seriously derailed against the Giants, when he gave up three runs on eight hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings. Sergio Santos didn’t do anything to help his cause, surrendering two runs on three hits and two walks in only two-thirds of an inning. Ditto for Juan Nicasio, who gave up three runs on three hits and two walks in his 1 1/3 innings.
Chris Hatcher, who was seen as a semi-lock to win a bullpen spot but struggled early, came back with another solid outing. He surrendered one hit and struck out one in the ninth.
Brandon McCarthy doesn’t have to win a spot in the rotation, though he may still have to win the confidence of team followers. McCarthy, signed in the off-season to a four-year, $48-million deal, has had a rough spring. He probably didn’t win over any converts Sunday against the Rangers, giving up three runs on seven hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. That actually lowered his ERA to 6.74, but it’s only spring training.
The lone position battle, such as it is, is between Joc Pederson and Andre Ethier for the final outfield spot. The Dodgers had pretty much planned on Pederson winning the job, which at this point seems a given. Against the Giants, Pederson hit a solo home run to give him the team lead this spring with six. He’s batting .389. Ethier, in the same lineup, went one-for-two with an RBI. After a slow start, he’s hitting .313.
The Dodgers had 15 hits in scoring 10 runs against the Rangers, and 15 hits for nine runs against the Giants. Enrique Hernandez, seemingly squeezed out in his bid to win a utility role, hit a three-run homer against the Giants. It was his fifth home run of the spring.
Buck Britton, a minor leaguer called into action Sunday against the Rangers when Juan Uribe became ill, had three hits, including a two-run homer. Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Scott Van Slyke, Yasiel Puig, Yasmani Grandal and Darwin Barney all had two hits for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have now hit 45 home runs, leading all of baseball. It is, of course, only spring.