Chris Taylor feeling ‘really close’ with swing after spring slump

Los Angeles Dodgers' Chris Taylor celebrates in the dugout after scoring off of a double hit by Miguel Rojas.
Chris Taylor snapped a spring-long slump with a big Freeway Series against the Angels. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Follow along for the latest news and analysis as the Dodgers wrap up their spring-training program in the Freeway Series against the Angels.

Chris Taylor feeling ‘really close’ with swing after finally snapping spring slump

After struggling for most of this spring, Chris Taylor is ending camp on a high note. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
After struggling for most of this spring, Chris Taylor is ending camp on a high note.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Most of this spring was a slog for Chris Taylor.

He batted .125 in Cactus League games. He struck out in close to half his trips to the plate. And he discussed the frustrations that came with continued tinkering of his swing, which has been derailed by inconsistency and injuries over the last season and a half.

In this week’s Freeway Series against the Angels, however, Taylor flashed some promising signs.

On Sunday and Monday, he hit home runs. On Tuesday, he added a double and two walks. Most importantly, he struck out only twice in 11 plate appearances.

“It’s been a progression,” Taylor said of his swing work. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, to get the right bat path and cover some of those pitches up in the zone I was missing.”

“It took me longer than I wanted to,” Taylor added, “but I feel like it’s really close now.”

Taylor won’t begin the season as an everyday player. Prior to Tuesday’s game, manager Dave Roberts reiterated that the 32-year-old will start the season in an outfield platoon role in addition to filling in as the backup shortstop.

Still, Roberts said there is a path for any of the team’s part-time outfielders to earn a more prominent role. It’s something Taylor has said he is aiming for this season. And this week, he and the Dodgers are hoping, could serve as a potential start.

“He’s a guy that we’re counting on,” Roberts said. “So seeing where he’s at this past week is certainly encouraging.”


Ryan Pepiot struggles in final spring start, but looks ahead to first MLB opening day

Ryan Pepiot gave up five runs in his final start of the spring Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Ryan Pepiot ended his big spring Tuesday night on a sour note.

In 3.2 bumpy innings against the Angels, the Dodgers rookie was hit hard early (including back-to-back home runs in the third inning) and lost his command late (highlighted by consecutive two-out walks in the fourth inning that loaded the bases and chased him from the game) en route to a five-run outing in the Dodgers final spring exhibition.

Last week, Pepiot won a roster battle over fellow rookie right-hadner Michael Grove for the final spot in the Dodgers opening day rotation, earning the chance to fill in for the injured Tony Gonsolin for the first month of the season.

He did so by avoiding many of the missteps he suffered Tuesday, when he reverted back to the pitcher who battled command and efficiency issues in his big-league debut last season.

Prior to Tuesday’s game, Roberts acknowledged the significance of Pepiot’s upcoming month, which could serve as a potential audition in the 25-year-old’s bid to secure a permanent place in the majors, though cautioned against the right-hander “adding any pressure” on himself.

“For a young player to get some runway, to get an opportunity, it’s important,” Roberts said of Pepiot, who will make his regular season debut Monday against the Colorado Rockies. “But he’s gotta go out there and be himself. Compete. Execute pitches. And everything else will take care of itself.”

Pepiot, meanwhile, said he’s trying to block out the long-term impacts his next month might have.

“It’s just, take it a day at a time,” Pepiot said.

The pitcher was then asked where taking part in Dodgers opening day will rank in his career milestones.

“It’s up there,” he said. “My wedding, No. 1. Then my debut [last year]. Then opening day. It’ll be pretty special.”


James Outman to get ‘lion’s share’ of CF playing time against right-handed pitching

James Outman is expected to be part of a center field platoon for the Dodgers. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

The Dodgers said they would only put James Outman on their opening day roster if there was an opportunity for the left-handed rookie slugger to get substantial at-bats.

And barely 48 hours before the season-opener, manager Dave Roberts double-downed on that promise, saying Outman will get the “lion’s share” of playing time in center field against right-handed pitching after making the team last week.

“I’m really impressed with James,” Roberts said. “How he’s continued to make strides.”

Roberts’ comments provided the latest indication that Outman will likely form the other half of a center field platoon with either Chris Taylor or Trayce Thompson, seemingly placing him ahead of Jason Heyward in the club’s outfield pecking order (Heyward, another lefty, will also play primarily against right-handers but likely only once or twice a week).

Outman’s performance this spring certainly warranted such a role. In 22 exhibition games entering Tuesday, the 25-year-old prospect batted .294 with three home runs and 11 RBIs. He finished camp on a tear, as well, collecting 10 hits in his last 17 spring at-bats.

The Dodgers will also use a platoon in left field, with David Peralta expected to get most starts against right-handed pitching.


Healthy wrist, aggressive approach at plate paying dividends for shortstop Miguel Rojas

Miguel Rojas turned on a 1-and-2 cut-fastball from Angels pitcher Tyler Anderson in the fifth inning Monday night, sending a 103.4-mph line drive over the left-field wall for a home run, an indication that the Dodgers shortstop’s surgically repaired right wrist is strong and that a more aggressive approach at the plate is working.

“For me, it’s a way different feeling — I can trust my [top] hand that when I hit the ball on the barrel, the ball is going to do that,” Rojas, 34, said. “Last year, I was doing that, and the ball was caught by the left fielder.”

Rojas, acquired in a Jan. 11 trade from Miami, caught his right hand on a slide into third base in the first game after the All-Star break last July and hit .230 with a .557 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and no homers in his final 58 games.

A .304 hitter with an .888 OPS, four homers and 20 RBIs in 40 games in pandemic-shortened 2020 and a .265 hitter with a .713 OPS, nine homers and 48 RBIs in 132 games in 2021, Rojas’ overall numbers tumbled in 2022, when he hit .236 with a .605 OPS, six homers and 36 RBIs in 140 games.

Rojas underwent surgery to remove cartilage from the wrist in October, and he had a second procedure in January to remove a bone growth from the wrist. He was expected to play a utility role this season but took over as starting shortstop after Gavin Lux suffered a season-ending knee injury in late February.

His wrist fully healed, the elite defender is ready to make a bigger impact in the batter’s box for the Dodgers, who open the regular season against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Chavez Ravine on Thursday night.

“It’s not an excuse, but last year, I was really hurting, my wrist was not 100%,” Rojas said. “You can see the numbers drop, but it was important for me to post every day and be there for the team. But I feel 100% now.”

Manager Dave Roberts has noticed a big difference between the Rojas he saw in a three-game series in Los Angeles and a four-game series in Miami last August and the one he’s watched this spring. Rojas enters Tuesday night’s exhibition finale against the Angels with a .273 average and .810 OPS in 17 spring games.

“You look back a couple of years ago, and he was a really good offensive player, a complete player,” Roberts said of Vargas. “With the wrist, not having that ability to finish your swing is hard. He still posted and played, but he’s a guy who I think has more in there offensively.

“The bat-to-ball [skill] is going to play. I think there’s going to be some more slug. And to have that guy at the bottom of the order, I think he’s going to get some big hits for us.”

The Dodgers have encouraged Rojas to be a little more aggressive at the plate in all counts, especially with two strikes, which made his two-strike homer against Anderson all the more encouraging.

“That’s something I didn’t used to do,” Rojas said. “I used to be really protective with two strikes. I describe it as playing defense with two strikes. But now, I have a little bit more freedom. Being in this lineup, a lot of guys can do damage, we’re gonna score runs. So I don’t need to be as protective as I used to be.”

Rojas, a Gold Glove Award finalist in 2022, also showed his defensive prowess Monday night, gloving Zach Neto’s 107-mph one-hopper in the fourth inning, falling back onto the outfield grass, getting up and making a long throw to first base for the out.

“It’s better than expected,” Roberts said of Rojas’ defense. “I always thought he could defend in the middle of the field, but just to see how engaged he is, his jumps on the baseball, the arm strength, the accuracy … it’s a plus major league shortstop, and it’s showing itself now without the shift. To have a guy out there who can really defend and who’s rangy, it’s going to play big for us.”


Noah Syndergaard on his velocity plateau: “If I don’t throw 100 again, that’s fine

Noah Syndergaard throws earlier in spring training.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

When Noah Syndergaard signed a one-year, $13-million deal with the Dodgers in December, he said, “I see no excuse as to why I can’t get back to 100 mph and even farther than that.” Then spring training hit, and so did reality.

Syndergaard made his fourth and final exhibition start Monday night against the Angels, and his four-seam fastball–which regularly hit triple digits with the New York Mets before Tommy John surgery in 2020–averaged 93.4 mph and touched 95.0 mph once, in the first inning.

Syndergaard, who was rocked for five runs and nine hits, including Mike Trout’s two-run homer and Taylor Ward’s solo shot, in five innings of a 5-4 loss in Angel Stadium, seemed more resigned to his velocity plateau than frustrated by it.

“If I don’t throw 100 [mph] again, that’s fine,” Syndergaard said. “I’m not going out there trying to throw 100. I’m just trying to get outs. It’s not all that important to me. If I can just trust my delivery, which I did for the most part, I think I’ll be in a pretty good position.”

Syndergaard’s five-pitch mix–he also throws a sinking fastball, slider, changeup and curve–looks very similar to the stuff he took into last season, and the 30-year-old right-hander was effective with it, going 10-10 with a 3.94 ERA in 25 games for the Angels and Philadelphia Phillies.

The Dodgers see no reason why Syndergaard, who threw 85 pitches Monday night, 54 for strikes, can’t be just as successful by mixing his pitches and keeping hitters guessing.

“I think the velocity is going to continue to tick up, which it has from last year to this spring,” manager Dave Roberts said. “But I do think that right now, mixing, sequencing, having command, which he does have, is the best course of action. I’m not sitting here trying to chase velocity.”


Time not on manager’s side with new instant replay rules

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stands in the dugout before a spring game against the Chicago White Sox.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stands in the dugout before a spring game against the Chicago White Sox on March 18.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Baseball’s new pace-of-play rules will not be limited to the pitch clock. Managers now must hold up their hands immediately to signal to the umpires that they are considering a challenge of a play, and they will have only 15 seconds from that point to inform the crew chief that they want a play reviewed.

Managers previously had 10 seconds before they even had to decide whether to signal to the umpires that they were considering a challenge and 20 seconds from that point to decide whether to challenge the play.

“We’ve got 15 seconds to make a decision, so the mechanics of it … we’ve got to make a decision sooner,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We don’t have that 10-second grace period to decide if we’re going to challenge or not.”

The tighter time window for deciding whether to challenge a play and review it will pressure replay specialists to find the best camera angle to make a determination quicker than they did in past years.

Home-plate umpires, who communicate with field timing coordinators in the press box through an earpiece and microphone, will likely add 15 seconds to pitch clocks behind home plate and the center-field wall to time replay reviews, though Roberts wasn’t sure Monday if replays would require another on-field clock.

“You know what? I hope not,” Roberts said. “We’ve got plenty of clocks around now.”


Dodgers targeting late-April return for injured pitcher Tony Gonsolin

Dodgers starting pitcher Tony Gonsolin delivers against the Angels on March 3.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

The Dodgers are targeting a late-April return for pitcher Tony Gonsolin, who is three weeks into his recovery from a left ankle sprain suffered when the right-hander twisted his ankle while trotting off a mound in Arizona after a round of fielding drills March 6.

Gonsolin, who had a breakout 2022 season, going 16-1 with a 2.14 earned-run average in 24 starts and earning his first All-Star selection, threw off a mound for the second time since being sidelined Monday, a 25-pitch outing that, according to manager Dave Roberts, “went really well.”

Gonsolin will throw a few more bullpen sessions before progressing to live batting practice, pitching in minor league games at the team’s Arizona spring-training complex and, perhaps, a minor league rehabilitation assignment.

“He’s still a ways away,” Roberts said. “I think the timeline we’re thinking about is the end of April for him to be back.”

Right-hander Ryan Pepiot beat out Michael Grove for the final rotation spot in camp and is lined up to start the fifth game of the regular season against Colorado next Monday night. He will follow Julio Urías, Dustin May, Clayton Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard in the rotation.


Struggling utility man Chris Taylor hopes to hit his way out of platoon role

Dodgers left fielder Chris Taylor throws the ball back after making a catch against the Chicago Cubs on Feb. 26.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

The 110.7-mph laser that Chris Taylor sent into the left-field pavilion in the second inning of Sunday night’s Freeway Series exhibition opener was an encouraging sign for the Dodgers utility man, who left Arizona with a .125 average and 23 strikeouts in 48 spring-training at-bats.

“He’s way more on time than he was the last few days, and the homer was a byproduct,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Taylor after a 3-0 victory over the Angels in Chavez Ravine. “Even the other at-bats, I thought he took some good swings and was looking over the baseball much better.”

Taylor, who had five highly productive seasons for the Dodgers from 2017-2021 before his production plummeted in 2022, won’t have an unlimited amount of time to look over the baseball in 2023, at least to start the season.

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March 27, 2023

The Dodgers have three outfielders who hit from the right side (Mookie Betts, Taylor, Trayce Thompson) and three who hit from the left side (Jason Heyward, David Peralta, James Outman), and five of those players are expected to share center field and left field with Betts holding down right field most nights.

Roberts made it clear that most of Taylor’s starts will come against left-handers. Taylor homered off Angels left-hander Tucker Davidson on Sunday and is in the lineup for Monday night’s game in Anaheim against Angels left-hander Tyler Anderson.

“Based off how the spring has gone, I think that’s where we are now, to my understanding,” Taylor said of his platoon role. “But it’s a long season. I’m not thinking about the whole year. I’m just trying to get myself right, and I know if I play the way I’m capable of, I’ll play against lefties and righties.”

Taylor, who will also play some shortstop and third base, has never been a strict platoon player with the Dodgers. He has a career .257 average and .760 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against right-handers and a .253 average and .774 OPS against left-handers.

But after earning his first All-Star selection in 2021 and signing a four-year, $60-million deal with the Dodgers the following winter, Taylor hit .221 with a .677 OPS, 10 homers and 160 strikeouts in 118 games last season, a 35.2% strikeout rate that trailed only Joey Gallow among MLB hitters with 400 plate appearances.

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March 26, 2023

Taylor was slowed by offseason elbow surgery and a late-season neck injury in 2021. He appears physically sound this spring, but the offensive struggles — and especially the whiffs — have persisted.

“It’s been a process with my swing mechanics,” Taylor said. “I think I’m finally starting to turn a corner where it’s trending upwards. And [Sunday] tonight, I kind of wanted to just get in the box and almost not focus so much on my mechanics, just kind of let things happen rather than me trying to force it.”

Eliminating thoughts about mechanics during games has been challenging for Taylor, who hit .265 with an .804 OPS, 78 homers and 292 RBIs in 623 games from 2017-2021.

“Ideally, you train before the game, and in the game you don’t have to,” Taylor said. “Sometimes that’s just not the case. You know, it doesn’t always carry over to the game right away. But [Sunday night] I felt like I was finally starting to turn the corner and starting to look closer to what I’ve done in the past.”


Dodgers open MLB season unsettled and uncertain. And that’s a good thing

They lost their cornerstone, their shaggy leader, Justin Turner heading off to hated Boston.

They lost their spark, their infield core, Trea Turner fleeing for Philly.

They lost their MVP, their homegrown hero, Cody Bellinger scooting over to Chicago.

They lost their hope, Gavin Lux, knee injury, gone for the season.

They lost their minds, this winter, failing to land any of baseball’s top free agents, bystanders to the San Diego Padres’ impressive shopping spree.

For the first time in more than a decade, the team with nine National League West Division crowns in those last 10 years enters a season with an overwhelming sense of loss.

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A look at the Dodgers’ opening-day roster

Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts, left, talks with Angels center fielder Mike Trout before a spring game on March 3.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

The Dodgers’ opening-day roster seems a bit imbalanced, with six outfielders — Mookie Betts, Chris Taylor, Trayce Thompson, Jason Heyward, David Peralta and James Outman — and only four infielders, first baseman Freddie Freeman, second baseman Miguel Vargas, shortstop Miguel Rojas and third baseman Max Muncy.

But Taylor’s ability to play shortstop and third base and Betts’ ability to play second base eliminated the need for a traditional utility infielder. With three outfielders who hit from the right side and three from the left side, there will be plenty of platooning.

“I think we just went with the 13 best players, and we’ll figure out how we’re going to divide up playing time,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I don’t want to pin myself into a corner right now, but [some decisions will be determined by] matchups. There’s keeping guys current by playing. There’s a lot that’s going to go into playing time.”

Left-hander Julio Urías will make the opening-day start against Arizona Thursday night, and he will be followed in the rotation by Dustin May, Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard and Ryan Pepiot.

The bullpen will consist of right-handers Evan Phillips, Brusdar Graterol, Yency Almonte, Phil Bickford, Andre Jackson and Shelby Miller and left-handers Alex Vesia and Caleb Ferguson.


Clayton Kershaw shines in Freeway Series opener vs. Angels

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws to the plate during the first inning.
Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers during a 3-0 exhibition win Sunday over the Angels at Dodger Stadium.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw was dominant in his final exhibition tuneup, blanking the Angels on three hits, striking out seven and walking none in a 3-0 victory over the Angels that took a mere 2 hours 8 minutes.

“How fast was that game tonight? That was nuts,” said Kershaw, who had two pitch-clock violations. “Hopefully, they sell enough beer.”

Kershaw retired the first 11 batters, five by strikeout, before Ohtani singled to right field with two outs in the fourth. Kershaw gave up two-out singles to Urshela and Logan O’Hoppe in the fifth before getting Jeremiah Jackson to ground out.

Kershaw threw 74 pitches, 51 for strikes. His slider, which averaged 86.5 mph, was particularly effective, producing 10 swinging strikes.

“Overall, it was definitely better than it has been,” Kershaw said. “The slider was definitely better. I threw some bad ones too, but overall, the consistency was better, I finally got some swings and misses with it tonight; the fastball command was better. Definitely a step forward. It’s time to go.”