On Sunday, for the first time in almost two weeks, Corey Seager was an active baseball player. He took batting practice. He took ground balls. He took a seat before a group of reporters, happily.
“I haven’t smiled in a while,” Seager said. “It’s nice to smile again.”
The back strain that sidelined Seager for the National League Championship Series appears healed. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he is “very confident” Seager will be back at shortstop for Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday.
“He said he felt as good he has in weeks,” Roberts said.
Seager remained in Los Angeles for treatment while the Dodgers were in Chicago for the final three games of the NLCS. He has moved out of his summer rental home, so he watched the Dodgers clinch their World Series berth from a Los Angeles hotel room.
The normally reserved Seager particularly enjoyed the grand slam hit by Enrique Hernandez.
“That was probably one of the few times I screamed in my hotel room,” Seager said.
Roberts would not say who would be removed from the Dodgers’ roster to make room for Seager. He did indicate the Dodgers might keep Charlie Culberson, who replaced Seager on the NLCS roster, as insurance, or an option should the Dodgers wish to use Seager as a designated hitter in Houston.
Culberson hit .455 in the NLCS but said he would be delighted to see Seager reclaim shortstop.
“We need Corey out there,” Culberson said. “He’s an MVP-type player.”
The Dodgers led the major leagues in payroll, but their front-office creativity and steadfast meritocracy reveals itself in interesting ways. Of the nine players in Tuesday’s projected starting lineup, five made less than $1 million this season: Seager, first baseman Cody Bellinger, outfielders Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor, and catcher Austin Barnes.
On the other hand, the two inactive pitchers who threw live batting practice to Seager on Sunday made a combined $17 million this season: Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Same four, once more
The Dodgers plan to deploy their starters in the World Series in the same order as they did in the NLCS: Clayton Kershaw in Game 1, Rich Hill in Game 2, Yu Darvish in Game 3 and Alex Wood in Game 4.
The Dodgers crunch every number possible, but Roberts said the team did not want to overthink the decision.
“Ultimately, we just kind of defaulted to, ‘It’s been working,’ ” he said.
Culberson caught the line drive that marked the final out of the NLCS. He kept the ball, but not before asking Roberts whether he should give it to closer Kenley Jansen.
“He’ll get another one,” Roberts told Culberson.
In what place of honor in his home has Culberson put the ball?
“A closet,” he said, “so my kids won’t get it.”
Culberson has three children. The oldest is 5; the youngest is seven months.
Roberts said he wouldn’t hesitate to use Jansen for a six-out save. And he expects that possibility to influence how both he and Houston manager A.J. Hinch approach the final innings of tight games.
“Your mind-set is different knowing that you have a guy like that at the back end of the bullpen,” Roberts said. “You don’t know when the manager is going to use him. So you have to sometimes be a little bit more aggressive than you might like to be, especially in a postseason setting.
“To have him on our side it makes life a lot simpler for me.”
Times staff writer Kevin Baxter also contributed to this report.