DODGERS DUGOUT: Opening Day Countdown

DODGERS DUGOUT: Opening Day Countdown
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig signs autographs at Camelback Ranch on March 3. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and I will be your usher through the season, so please find your seats and spend the season with us as we discuss everything to do with the Boys in Blue.



The Dodgers and the Kansas City Royals played to a 4-4 tie in their Cactus League finale, but many of the regulars weren’t at the game because they were already in Los Angeles to prepare for the exhibition Freeway Series against the Angels, which begins tonight at 7 at Angel Stadium. With the tie, the Dodgers are now a hockey-like 16-9-7 in spring training.



The Dodgers lead all teams with 46 spring training home runs, so it doesn’t look as if power will be a big problem for them this season. They may not have a player among the league leaders, but everyone in their lineup, except perhaps Howie Kendrick, is capable of hitting at least 15 homers, which should make them a dangerous offense. The big question is the pitching staff. Hyun-jin Ryu has a sore shoulder, and Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy are back of the rotation guys. That leaves Clayton Kershaw, who is the best pitcher in baseball until the playoffs start, and Zack Greinke, who is due to break down any time now. And don’t get me started on the bullpen, which will be without Kenley Jansen to start the season. So who will be the closer? Sergio Santos and Chris Hatcher have been unimpressive, each with high ERAs and giving up more than a hit an inning, so I’d like to see Yimi Garcia get a chance. He has an ERA below one and strikes out more than a batter an inning.



Remember how many experts were saying Justin Turner’s 2014 season was a fluke, and that he will never hit that well (.340, 7 HRs, 43 RBIs) again? Well, this spring he is batting .477 with three homers and eight RBIs, so the flukiness has been extended at least through spring.



When I was a kid, the annual Dodgers-Angels spring training Freeway Series was a big deal, since it was the only time the two teams played each other all year. Now we get to see them play each other during the season, so these exhibition games have really lost their appeal. They even used to give out MVP awards to the best player and pitcher in the three games between the two teams. How long ago was that? Well, the last Dodger to win the Freeway Series MVP was Paul Konerko, the last pitcher was Ramon Martinez. For the Angels, the last batter to win it was Tim Salmon, and the last pitcher was Allen Watson.



The Dodgers announced Wednesday that they would offer several new food options this season, including items called “Lasorda’s Meatball Marinara Specialty Fries” and “Lasorda’s Meatball Marinara Cone.”  No word on whether the marinara sauce is blue or if the items come with their own cholesterol screening kits.



Andre Ethier was hit on his right elbow by a pitch during Tuesday’s exhibition and had to come out of the game. X-rays were negative, so he will be fine. That is quite a relief, because his right elbow is the one he rests on when he sits on the bench.



Can you name the top 20 home run hitters in L.A. Dodgers’ history? Go here and try your luck. I finished the quiz in 45 seconds. Of course, I had an advantage because I put it together.



The Dodgers on Tuesday announced some new security procedures for fans entering the stadium this season. They are all way too long and boring to list here, but you should know them before you head to Dodger Stadium, so click here to read them.   



Congratulation to Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner, whose Charley Steiner School of Sports Communication opened at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., on Tuesday. No truth to the rumor that one of the classes will teach you how to tell stories about the New York Yankees while broadcasting games for other teams.



April 3, 1974: The Dodgers acquire Pedro Guerrero from the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Bruce Ellingsen. Guerrero will go on to be one of the best hitters in Dodgers history, making the All-Star team five times with the Dodgers.



The regular season starts Monday, at home, against Matt Kemp and the San Diego Padres. Game time is 1 p.m. Look for a Dodgers newsletter that morning, and before every series this season.


Have a comment or something you'd like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Message Houston Mitchell and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston