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Dodgers mailbag: Who will be in the rotation on Opening Day?

Greetings from the desert, where the pitchers and catchers of the Dodgers will report Wednesday for the start of the 2017 season. After an expensive offseason, the Dodgers reloaded in hopes of snapping their lengthy World Series drought. While the Chicago Cubs are the sport’s reigning champions, the Dodgers are expected to be a worthy challenger to their crown.

FanGraphs projected the Dodgers to lead the sport with 95 victories. PECOTA, the projection machine run by Baseball Prospectus, also pegged them for baseball’s best record: 99 wins. So, as always for this club, the expectations are high. And there are plenty of questions to answer.

Before the team convenes at Camelback Ranch, let’s take a few questions from readers on Twitter. You can send me a question to @McCulloughTimes. Let’s do this.

I received a lot of questions like this. It is the most intriguing roster battle this spring. Barring injuries or trades, I do not think anything surprising will happen.

In a situation like this, in general, teams choose the path of least resistance. They also prefer to maintain depth at all times. As the Dodgers showed last season, pitching is a fragile business. Your starting rotation on Opening Day will not be the same as your rotation in the season finale.

So, with that in mind, the first three members of the rotation are Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda. The last two spots will be decided between Julio Urias, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brock Stewart.

We will handle Urias with a little more depth in the next question, but I suspect he will start the year in extended spring training. Ryu is a health risk, and it is unclear if he’ll even be ready at the start of the spring. Wood has utility out of the bullpen. Both Stripling and Stewart have minor-league options, which means they can be stashed in the triple-A Oklahoma City rotation until needed.

Which clears the floor for Kazmir and McCarthy. Each man has hurdles to clear. Kazmir needs to show his back and neck issues from 2016 have passed. McCarthy has to prove he can still throw strikes, a skill that eluded him after he returned from Tommy John surgery in the summer. If both can accomplish their goals, they’re likely to start the year in the rotation. That keeps the team’s depth intact, avoids expending Urias’ innings early in the season and keeps options open for later in the season.

Somewhere between 150 and 170 innings makes sense for Julio Urias. That is a big window, obviously, but the Dodgers are dealing with an inexact science. One thing you can almost certainly guarantee: You will not hear Dave Roberts or Andrew Friedman mention a number publicly. That would create a countdown that meddlesome reporters like myself could reference on a daily basis, and create an unnecessary nuisance for the club.

So, let’s try some logic. Between the minors, majors and the playoffs last season, Urias logged 127⅔ innings. His agent, Scott Boras, has often espoused his belief, based on in-house research conducted by his agency, that young pitchers should not be subjected to yearly innings increases larger than 40 per season. So 150 to 170 feels reasonable. If Urias reaches 180 innings this season, it means he is pitching quite well, and the Dodgers are playing games in late October.

The facilities in Arizona are much nicer than those in Florida. Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, which is shared by the Rockies and the Diamondbacks, is probably the best.

On Opening Day in Oklahoma City in 2017, and on Opening Day in Los Angeles in 2019.

Bellinger followed up a good year in class-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2015 with a good year in double-A Tulsa last season. He is only 21, and he’s not on the 40-man roster. But he’s a very intriguing young prospect, the Dodgers adore him and the people who make up prospect lists agree. He could hit enough to debut in 2017, but there isn’t a lot of space on the roster for him just yet.  

That will probably be Logan Forsythe, at least according to Dave Roberts’ preliminary plans.

No, that will be also Logan Forsythe, on Opening Day, and on about 130 to 140 days afterward.

Yes. Forsythe is younger, cheaper and better at baseball. Forsythe gets on base more than Brandon Phillips does, he hits with more power and he can play more than one position. Besides blocking trades to good teams, Phillips has not done much of note during the last few seasons.

For 200 or so at-bats, facing almost exclusively right-handed pitchers, I would not sleep on Chase Utley’s ability to contribute on the field. He hit .283/.369/.428 in the first two months of 2016 (198 plate appearances), when he was playing almost every day. In the opinion of this non-voting baseball writer, Utley should merit serious consideration for the Hall of Fame when he retires. He has shown he can still play, as long as he isn’t over-exposed.

But, yes, from a psychic perspective, his return restores the balance inside the clubhouse, with Utley joining Justin Turner and Adrian Gonzalez as the veterans guiding the room. Roberts leaned on the trio throughout his first season as a manager, sounding ideas off the group, getting their perspective before making decisions. And Corey Seager also benefited from Utley’s presence by asking him for advice, and learning to develop a daily routine to guide him through the season.

The Dodgers spent a significant amount of money this off-season bringing back their own free agents – Utley, Turner, Kenley Jansen, Rich Hill – in part because they were often the best players on the market. But the team also wanted to maintain the dynamic they established in 2016. Utley was a major part of that, even if his contributions on the field are likely to diminish in 2017.

The odds of Hyun-Jin Ryu being a valuable contributor to the rotation in 2017 are long. He’s pitched once since shoulder surgery in 2015. His fastball resided in the mid-80s when he attempted a comeback last season. He’ll be attempting to crack a pitching unit that is long on depth. It’s hard to envision a scenario, based on his recent history, where he is healthy enough and effective enough to be one of the Dodgers’ five best options.

But, stranger things have happened, and Ryu was quite effective in 2013 and 2014.

I don’t see a reason to bring Shinsuke Nakamura up before Wrestlemania. The card is already stocked with big names and (theoretically) big matches (we will address the card itself later in this mailbag), so I’m not sure why you need him. They’ve done an excellent job with Nakamura in NXT, but his rollout on the main roster needs to be managed carefully. He needs a real program, and a real plan, in order to capitalize on his charisma and in-ring ability. That sort of program makes more sense in the post-Mania lull.

Like, for example, the day after at Raw.

I plan on using spring training to write myself into shape.

You can reach The Times’ stadium-dining expert, Dylan Hernandez, at dylan.hernandez@latimes.com.

It was solid, Bernie. Thank you for asking. I went on vacation to Vancouver, saw Joyce Manor in downtown Los Angeles and completed several successful sessions of $2-$3 no-limit hold-em at The Bike.

Not particularly. If you believe the dirt sheets – and I do trust Dave Meltzer – then the card would mean:

1. The best worker in the company, A.J. Styles, will be forced to coax a decent match out of the owner’s son.

2. The wrestler most likely to be given a chance to have a five-star match, John Cena, will be stuck in a mixed tag match with The Miz. No thanks.

3. The top main-event draw, Brock Lesnar, will be trying to make a useful match with Goldberg, a 50-year-old guy who couldn’t even work in his prime 20 years ago. And considering Lesnar apparently likes Goldberg, he will probably be very gentle.

4. The guy with the most heel heat in the company, Roman Reigns, will be paired with the most beloved character in the company, The Undertaker, in a situation they will probably botch. If WWE wants to turn Reigns, it’s very simple. Have him go over strong on Taker, then spear him after. What they will most likely do: Have Reigns come back like Superman, then shake hands with Taker, as they try yet again to give the rub to a guy the fans do not want to support.

5. The best chance for a five-star match on the card, Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho, will be confined to an eight-minute match.

6. Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton will probably have an OK match for the title, but the ceiling is low.

Like a lot of wrestling fans, I was blown away by Kazuchika Okada’s match with Kenny Omega at WrestleKingdom 11. It was probably the best match I’ve ever seen. But New Japan puts on a main event that at least approaches that caliber every single year. WWE could do the same thing. They have the talent, and they have enough fans who are willing to invest in a match that lasts 45 minutes. Instead they choose this hodgepodge of nonsense.

I don’t know why I still watch American wrestling.

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