As opener looms, Torre prepares for the final cut
The Dodgers all but wrapped up spring training and were set to pare their roster to the 25 players who will open the season Monday against the San Diego Padres.
After losing to the Milwaukee Brewers, 7-4, in an exhibition game Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers -- with 36 players in camp before the game started -- were expected to make final cuts.
“It’s been difficult” to decide which players can stay with the big league club, Manager Joe Torre said before the game, adding that the team would start the season with 12 pitchers and 13 position players.
Left-handed starter Clayton Kershaw sparkled in his final tuneup, pitching three scoreless innings against Milwaukee without giving up a hit in front of 30,473. Rafael Furcal and Andre Ethier had run-scoring doubles.
But the Brewers broke a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning when Brad Nelson hit a three-run homer off Dodgers reliever Erick Threets.
A partial squad of Dodgers regulars, along with minor leaguers, will play one more exhibition game today in San Francisco against the Giants. But Dodgers mainstays such as Furcal, Manny Ramirez and Russell Martin were not scheduled to make the trip.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda is scheduled to start Monday for the Dodgers in San Diego’s Petco Park.
Padres ace Jake Peavy, who will pitch the opener, reportedly has honed his cut fastball into an exceptional pitch with help from Mel Stottlemyre, for years the pitching coach for Torre’s New York Yankees and, more recently, for the U.S. team in the World Baseball Classic that included Peavy.
“I’ll have to call Stottlemyre and thank him for that,” Torre said wryly.
Regardless, Torre added, “My philosophy is you don’t try to beat those guys, you just try to stay close until they leave the game” and then beat the relief pitchers.
“That was the thing when we used to play against the Red Sox with Pedro [Martinez] pitching” for Boston, Torre said of his Yankees years. “You don’t want to beat him, you want to run his pitch count up” so that he’s forced to exit.
A visit by Milwaukee includes longtime Brewers broadcaster, former player and comedian/actor Bob Uecker -- and lots of laughs around the dugout.
Torre got matters rolling Saturday by joking that he paved the way for Uecker’s entertainment career.
They were both catchers with the Atlanta Braves in 1967 when Torre hurt his ankle, meaning Uecker “had to catch every day, which accelerated his being out of the game” after that season, Torre quipped.
Uecker, 74, agreed, saying he told Torre at the time, “ ‘How long are you going to use this [ankle] thing as an excuse?’ I knew the more I played the closer I was to going back to the minor leagues.”
But Torre said Uecker actually was “a great defensive catcher and he had the ability to hit [Dodgers Hall of Famer] Sandy Koufax very well.”
And how did Uecker, a .200 hitter over his six-year playing career, explain that?
“I think it was more [Koufax] hitting my bat, he had such great control,” Uecker said in his signature deadpan delivery.
Still, “I hit a couple of home runs against him. Everybody used to laugh at it. I was always thinking, gee, I hope this doesn’t keep him out of the Hall of Fame, that I hit a home run against him.”
Kershaw, 21, helped his own cause Saturday night by hitting a double and scoring in the second inning. . . . Despite reporting late to spring training, Ramirez entered the game hitting .478 (11 for 23) with 10 walks.