The Dodgers acquired a big league catcher in Yasmani Grandal when they sent Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres over the winter. Now, it’s looking as if they might have also acquired their fifth starter in the same deal.
Initially viewed as an ancillary component of the trade with the Padres, Joe Wieland is among the candidates to replace Hyun-Jin Ryu in the rotation if the South Korean left-hander is sidelined for an extended period of time. Ryu, who has already been ruled out for opening day, was examined Monday in Los Angeles by Dr. Neal ElAttrache.
The 25-year-old Wieland is intimately familiar with arm problems. Considered one of the Padres’ top prospects, Wieland made his major league debut in 2012, only to undergo reconstructive elbow surgery later in the season. He was sidelined for all of 2013 and most of last year.
But Wieland said he doesn’t look back at the lost time with a sense of regret.
“It’s something that I have taken a big positive out of,” he said. “You learn a lot from situations like this. I learned a lot about patience and what it’s like to really be at this level.”
He earned his first major league victory last season, on Sept. 24 against the Colorado Rockies.
“Last year when I got my first big league win, it was so gratifying because of what I’d gone through,” Wieland said. “Honest to God, I’m glad I didn’t get it my first year because I didn’t really understand what I had and where I was at. I think last year, after the whole rehab process and finally getting back, I definitely came back a different player and a different person.”
Wieland has started only seven major league games. He has a career earned-run average of 5.31.
What makes Wieland attractive to the Dodgers is that he’s showing some of the same traits he showed leading up to his injury. Wieland has pitched nine innings over four Cactus League appearances, striking out nine and walking three. He has given up only one run.
“He looks like he’s picked up where he left off,” said Josh Byrnes, the Dodgers vice president of baseball operations.
Byrnes was the general manager of the Padres when Wieland broke into the majors.
“Before the injury, he was really on track,” Byrnes said. “He was a tremendous strike thrower. His stuff was getting better. His changeup was coming along.”
Wieland is a fly-ball pitcher, something Byrnes thinks could work to his advantage in the spacious ballparks of the National League West.
Wieland said Byrnes’ presence in the front office has been a source of comfort for him.
“He knows how I like to pitch,” Wieland said.
Wieland and Byrnes became well acquainted when they were with the Padres.
Wieland lived in 2012 with Padres outfielder Mark Kotsay, who has children who are similar in age to Byrnes’. Byrnes and his family spent considerable time that season at Kotsay’s residence.
“I became the baby sitter when the team was on the road,” Wieland said.
Byrnes joked, “There were some times he was roasting the marshmallows and we grown-ups were having cocktails somewhere else in our house.”
Cuban pitcher courted
The Dodgers’ impending minor league deal with Pablo Millan Fernandez received the endorsement of infielder Alex Guerrero, who faced the 25-year-old right-hander in the Cuban league.
“What he does best is locate his pitches,” Guerrero said in Spanish. “He has a lot of control.”
Fernandez will receive an $8-million bonus if the contract is finalized, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke under the condition of anonymity because the deal is pending a physical examination.
Fernandez was primarily a reliever in his home country, but the Dodgers plan to convert him into a starter. He is said to have an unorthodox delivery similar to Orlando Hernandez’s and a five-pitch arsenal.
Guerrero vouched not only for his talent, but also his character. Guerrero and Fernandez played in neighboring provinces — Guerrero in Las Tunas and Fernandez in Holguin.
“We knew each other pretty well,” Guerrero said.
The Dodgers could add yet another Cuban player in the coming days, as they remain in pursuit of free-agent infielder Hector Olivera. A former standout on Cuba’s national team, Olivera is expected to land an eight-figure contract.