Corey Seager put on a batting helmet and stepped to the plate with a bat in hand Friday morning. On the mound was right-hander Josh Sborz, a Dodgers minor leaguer. Seager wore shorts. He didn’t wear batting gloves, and he didn’t swing the bat once. He was crashing Sborz’s bullpen session in the 10-pack of mounds at the back of Camelback Ranch. It was a sign of progress.
The brief exercise — Seager took about 15 pitches — was designed to have the shortstop track pitches. He had not faced a live arm since April — before he underwent elbow ligament replacement and hip surgeries. A couple of hurdles remain — he has not taken live batting practice or thrown across the field from shortstop yet — and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he is not sure when Seager will appear in a Cactus League game, but Seager and the Dodgers remain cautiously optimistic he will be available for opening day.
“It’s a really good feeling,” Seager said Saturday. “It’s nice to feel like you’re able to do everything and not have to worry anymore. … I’ve reached all those steps where I feel healthy now, and I have to do the last couple little things before I can go.”
Seager, 24, had Tommy John surgery in May. In August, he had arthroscopic surgery on his left hip to repair a lingering issue that forced him to miss games in April. By August, the Dodgers had acquired All-Star Manny Machado to play shortstop, but Roberts said the club thought Seager, the 2016 National League rookie of the year and a two-time All-Star, was its shortstop moving forward.
“I didn’t have the conversation one time with Corey,” Roberts said. “Manny was here to fill a hole. We made a decision as an organization at the deadline or near it. But Corey was always going to be our short-term and long-term plan, so I didn’t feel the need to have that conversation.”
Seager remained in Los Angeles most of the offseason, progressing through the rehabilitation on both fronts. He arrived in Arizona earlier this month and took batting practice for the first time since the surgeries. He has run the bases, fielded ground balls at shortstop, and stretched his throwing distance to 135 feet. Nothing has gone amiss.
“There was some balls he was challenging on going in the hole yesterday that I saw and sort of cringed at times,” Roberts recalled. “But he said he felt good and felt really normal and quick. It was encouraging.”
Seager explained that the hip surgery made a greater impact than he imagined. He said he has found it easier to stabilize, to stay in a squat and hold it longer, and has sensed a better range of motion.
He did not pin any previous physical limitations to the relative struggles he endured in the 26 games he played last season. Those, he asserted, were the result of a self-induced funk. He batted .267 with two home runs and posted a .744 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, unable to make necessary adjustments for better production.
But the sample size was insignificant. Chances are a healthy Seager — the one with a .305 batting average and .876 OPS over his first two-plus seasons — would have corrected the issues and snapped out of the lull. The opportunity did not arise. Instead, Seager watched the Dodgers lose in another World Series without him.
“He handled it as well as he could’ve handled it,” Roberts said. “There was many times he wanted to pull his hair out. There were times he didn’t want to be around the ballpark because it hurt him so much not to participate. And there were other times he had to be there because he wanted to be a part of it. But Corey’s a guy that’s built to play every day and wants to play and compete.”
Roberts said the club has decided who will be the starting pitcher opening day, but he declined to disclose the information. Clayton Kershaw is a near lock. The left-hander has started eight times on opening day. … Right-hander Ross Stripling has not reported to the Dodgers’ facility the last two days because of “flu-like symptoms,” Roberts said.