A day after watching one of his All-Stars suffer a broken bone, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts held his breath when another All-Star fouled a pitch off his leg. Roberts watched from the dugout at Hohokam Stadium as Cody Bellinger hobbled for a moment before flashing a smile. Roberts was relieved — but still elected to remove Bellinger after four innings Tuesday.
“That was a little relief,” Roberts said. “As we get closer to breaking camp, you want to keep these guys as healthy as possible.”
The Dodgers would prefer to avoid a string of injuries. In the morning, Roberts confirmed that third baseman Justin Turner will not require surgery on his fractured left wrist, but declined to reveal when the team expects him to return to the field.
“How he heals will be determined,” Roberts said on Tuesday, the morning after Turner was struck by a fastball from Oakland Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman. Turner described the injury as a “small, non-displaced” fracture. He was expected to meet with team doctor Brian Shafer during the day.
“He just wants this thing to heal as quick as possible,” Roberts said. “We know that there’s a fracture in the wrist. And that’s kind of all we know.”
The injury means the Dodgers will open the season without the leader of their offense. His absence destabilized their infield and scrambled the composition of their lineup. It also opened up a variety of possibilities for the opening day roster, which had looked mostly set before the fastball collided with Turner’s wrist.
Turner wore a brace as he walked through the Dodgers clubhouse on Tuesday. The length of his absence is undetermined, and the Dodgers are unlikely to reveal a timetable, a team official said. The team has resisted setting deadlines for the return of injured players, a precedent which began with Clayton Kershaw’s back issues in 2016 and 2017, and has continued with the treatment of injured pitchers like Julio Urias and Tom Koehler.
Turner is unlikely to play for the Dodgers until May, at the earliest. Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman missed six weeks because of a similar injury last season. Houston Astros outfielder George Springer missed nine weeks in 2015.
Michael Hausman, an orthopedic surgeon and hand specialist at Mount Sinai hospital in New York, watched video of Turner’s injury. Based on where the baseball struck Turner and the team’s public diagnosis of the injury, Hausman suggested Turner could return to baseball activity within a month. A wrist fracture is troubling for a power hitter, but it could be worse.
“Bone has the capacity to heal perfectly,” Hausman said. “I think over the long term, the prognosis is better with a fracture than with a ligament injury.”
With Turner on the mend, Roberts started to piece together a plan to replace him. Logan Forsythe will become the primary third baseman. The void at second base will be filled by Enrique Hernandez and Chase Utley, with backup catcher Austin Barnes also able to contribute.
Forsythe played third base at the University of Arkansas. He developed into a multipurpose utility player as he came up with the Tampa Bay Rays, but his primary position is second base. He has played in 517 games in the majors at second, compared to 88 at third. He appeared in 39 games as a third baseman for the Dodgers last season, as Turner spent time on the disabled list because of a strained hamstring.
Forsythe had focused on second base throughout this spring, while doing enough to stay ready at third. He intended to reconfigure his workload and huddle with third-base coach Chris Woodward to sharpen his skills.
“The only thing right now is when I go back to third, the reaction time isn’t as quick as it used to be,” Forsythe said. “But it doesn’t take too long. The injury sucks for J.T. But it gives me another four, five days to a week to get that reaction time back, so it’s not just in-season, where it just kind of happens.”
The injuries to Koehler and Turner thwarted some of the team’s planning. The roster now looks unsettled. Roberts has indicated the team could carry either seven or eight relievers. In the left-field competition, Andrew Toles has outperformed Joc Pederson this spring, but both players have minor-league options, and Toles missed the majority of 2017 after tearing his ACL. With Turner down, both outfielder Trayce Thompson and utility man Kyle Farmer hold more appeal.
Thompson is out of options. If he does not make the majors, the team would need to slip him through waivers in order to send him to the minors. Thompson batted .122 last season after a back fracture in 2016 stalled his progress.
Farmer was a shortstop at the University of Georgia, but he split his time in the minors as a catcher and a third baseman. He received a start at third in Tuesday’s game against Oakland, but finished the game at catcher. Farmer went one for five, which dropped his Cactus League batting average to .394. “He’s in the mix,” Roberts said.
The injury to Turner improved Farmer’s chances of making the opening day roster. He took little solace in that.
“It’s awful what happened to J.T.,” Farmer said. “He’s probably the best third baseman in all of the game right now.”
Farmer may be exaggerating slightly — the sport is littered with talented third basemen, from Nolan Arenado in Colorado and Kris Bryant in Chicago to Josh Donaldson in Toronto and Jose Ramirez in Cleveland. At a time of historic depth at the position, Turner remains elite. Since 2015 he ranks fifth in FanGraphs’ version of wins above replacement, trailing Bryant, Donaldson, Arenado and Baltimore’s Manny Machado, who shifted to shortstop this spring.
Turner, 33, led the team in on-base plus slugging percentage in 2017 while making his first All-Star team. He was the team’s primary hitter in the coveted No. 3 spot. His place in the lineup will likely be filled by Bellinger. So soon after fouling that pitch off his leg, Bellinger was put on ice for the rest of the game.
“He’s fine,” Roberts said. “He’s fine.”