While most Dodgers fans were angry and disappointed that the team failed to offer Bryce Harper a more lucrative deal, there was a sense of relief in one part of the team’s spring-training facility when the free-agent slugger signed a 13-year, $330-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Harper wore No. 34 during his eight years with the Washington Nationals. Had he requested that number in Los Angeles, it would have left equipment manager Alex Torres and long-time clubhouse manager Mitch Poole with a dilemma: Do they issue a number that has not been worn since Dodgers great Fernando Valenzuela in 1990?
“It came to my mind,” said Poole, who has been with the team since 1985. “I would have asked Fernando first and got his blessing on it, and it would have been something the front office would have to deal with. But for now, it’s safe.”
The Dodgers don’t have a written policy for retiring numbers, but each of the franchise’s retired numbers were worn by players who were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with one exception — Jim Gilliam, the former infielder who was the team’s first-base coach when he died at 49 before the 1978 World Series.
Valenzuela, whose rise from the obscurity of Navojoa, Mexico, to 20-year-old Dodgers pitching phenom in 1981 spawned the “Fernandomania” craze, has not had his number retired. Poole just hasn’t issued it to anyone since the left-hander last pitched for the team.
“I’ve known Fernando for a long time, and he was the man when I first started out,” Poole said. “He meant so much to this team and the Latin American community. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future with Fernando’s number. I just think leaving it alone right now is good.”
Harper did not request No. 34 from the Phillies out of respect for Hall of Famer Roy Halladay, saying at Saturday’s introductory news conference that the former two-time Cy Young Award winner, who died in a 2017 plane crash at the age of 40, should be the last Phillies player to wear that number. Harper will wear No. 3.
Poole said the only other Dodgers player to request No. 34 was Manny Ramirez, who was traded from Boston to the Dodgers in 2008. Ramirez wore No. 24 with the Red Sox, but that number is retired for Dodgers for Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston. Ramirez didn’t get his second choice, either.
“I said it was Fernando’s,” Poole said. “He was OK with that.”
Ramirez eventually settled on No. 99.
Brock Stewart’s fastball sat between 90-92 mph during his two-inning start in Saturday’s 6-5 exhibition loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, an encouraging sign for the right-hander who is trying a new leg lift in an effort to add velocity this spring.
Stewart has shuttled between the minor leagues and big leagues for three seasons. According to Fangraphs, the average velocity of his fastball fell from 93.3 mph in 2017, when he had a 3.41 ERA in 17 big-league appearances, to 91.1 mph in 2018, when he had a 6.11 ERA in nine games.
Stewart switched to a more of a circular motion with his left foot in an effort to better position his lower half and gain more momentum as he drives toward the plate. His velocity is up from the 88-89 mph he was at last spring.
“It’s another step in the right direction,” Stewart said. “The ball feels better coming out. It’s just about getting consistent with it and commanding the heater. That’s when I’m at my best, when I’m commanding my fastball.”
Russell Martin, the 36-year-old who was acquired from Toronto to share catching duties with Austin Barnes, has been sidelined for four days because of lower-back soreness, a condition manager Dave Roberts said was the result of “overuse.” Roberts hopes Martin can return to the lineup as a designated hitter on Monday.
“It’s nothing big,” Roberts said. “With where we’re at, we can always get him those at-bats.”
Shortstop Corey Seager, who is recovering from elbow and hip injuries, will continue to hit, throw and run the bases in minor league camp games, but the team has not determined when Seager will begin playing defense in games.