With every home run he hit, every ball in the gap he ran down, Joc Pederson came a little closer to believing.
And by the time the
"I'm not just here for a favor," he said.
He made others believe too.
"He's proven that he can handle the big leagues," first baseman
"Joc's checked off all the boxes," Mattingly said.
Now comes the difficult part: a 162-game schedule that starts Monday at Dodger Stadium against the San Diego Padres.
Pederson should have a major role on a team with World Series aspirations and a payroll of more than $270 million. Though he might start the season as the No. 7 or 8 hitter, he is expected to be the primary center fielder.
That's a significant responsibility, considering the Dodgers' increased emphasis on defense.
The shift in philosophy was introduced by the team's new analytics-based front office that is headed by
Friedman made a qualifying offer to
The Dodgers upgraded their middle-infield defense by trading for shortstop
With Pederson ready to take over in center field, the Dodgers were free to move
Mattingly was pleased with the moves, saying an improved defense could make the Dodgers more dangerous in the lower-scoring environment of the playoffs. In each of the two previous seasons, the Dodgers were eliminated by the more fundamentally sound St. Louis Cardinals.
The team's form in
"We're playing as a team," Kendrick said. "We're winning games, putting up runs. The pitching's been good. That's what you look for in spring, for everyone to come together."
Although the off-season roster makeover solidified the defense, it also raised several questions.
With Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke returning, the Dodgers have two of the best starting pitchers in baseball. But rotation depth could be a problem. The team is gambling that
Concern about the rotation became even more pronounced recently when No. 3 starter Hyun-Jin Ryu was sidelined because of a shoulder injury.
The bullpen will also be tested, particularly while closer
The Dodgers led the Cactus League in home runs, but without Ramirez and Kemp their offense isn't expected to be as productive as it was last season. Gonzalez is the only player in the lineup who hit 20 home runs or more last season. If the Dodgers decide to bat Gonzalez third, their cleanup hitter is expected to be Kendrick, who is coming off a seven-home run season.
The Dodgers will also have to lean more on Puig, who can be as inconsistent as he is talented.
An X factor could be Hector Olivera, who is expected to soon be introduced as the latest Cuban defector to be signed by the Dodgers. Olivera, 30, recently agreed to a contract that will pay him $62.5 million.
Though Olivera is expected to require time in the minor leagues to get into game shape, he could contribute at the major league level. A former standout on the Cuban national team, Olivera can play second base and third base.
Then there is Pederson.
Playing in triple A last year, Pederson became the first Pacific Coast League player in 80 years to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season.
Pederson said he hasn't felt overburdened by the expectations and responsibilities he faces.
"I think I have the highest standards for myself than anyone else out there," he said. "It's not really pressure. It's baseball. It's something that I want to be really good at."
What he sees is an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong ambition.