Signs point to Clayton Kershaw starting for the Dodgers on opening day
The left-hander is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers — one day before Walker Buehler is slated to make his debut in one of the Dodgers’ two split-squad games Saturday. Buehler, a blooming ace, is seemingly Kershaw’s only competition for the opening day assignment.
Roberts previously said the team has decided on its starter for the season opener against the San Francisco Giants on March 26, but he declined to reveal it. Should we read into this weekend’s order?
“You can read whatever you want into that order,” Roberts said. “Obviously, you’re looking at off days and things can happen. But you can make what you want with it.”
A year ago, Roberts named Kershaw his opening day starter Feb. 19. It was a foregone conclusion and Kershaw’s ninth consecutive nod — a franchise record. Unlike the first eight, however, Kershaw did not make the start. Instead, he began the season on the injured list after shoulder inflammation sabotaged his spring training.
He made his season debut April 15 and didn’t return to the injured list for the remainder of the year, posting a 16-5 and a 3.03 ERA in 178 1/3 innings across 28 starts and one relief appearance on the final day of the regular season in preparation for the playoffs.
A.J. Pollock hit his first home run of the spring but the Dodgers dug themselves in a hole early to fall to the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-3.
This year, Kershaw, who will turn 32 next month, arrived healthy after a modified offseason training regimen that included a more aggressive throwing program in which he started throwing earlier and continued through the winter. It included a two-day visit to Driveline Baseball’s headquarters in Washington early in the offseason for an assessment, joining Kenley Jansen and Alex Wood in working with the the data-focused training company.
“Our strength and conditioning guys have done a great job of identifying some things and getting his body to work right,” Roberts said. “And on top of the Driveline thing, layering that on how the body works to the mechanics, all that kind of got us to this point.”
Kershaw threw his third bullpen session of the spring Tuesday after completing his first live batting practice session Sunday. He wasn’t pleased with his execution, but he emerged healthy. At this point, that’s all that matters.
“You can watch him and see how much different his body is moving and so that in itself is very exciting for all of us,” Roberts said. “And so I’m just thrilled with where he’s at. All the other fine-tuning, that will take care of itself. But to have him in a place where he can kind of get back to what he was before as far as his body, that’s really exciting.”
Pederson still not swinging
Joc Pederson, still dealing with a problem with his side, has been limited to tracking pitches and bunting in bullpen sessions since last week. Pederson, projected to start in left field against right-handed pitchers this season, was nearly traded to the Angels before spring training. He enjoyed his most productive offensive season in 2019, batting .249 with an .876 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 36 home runs — all against right-handed pitchers.
Roberts said trainers have said the injury is to Pederson’s side or abdomen, but added that they haven’t said anything about an oblique injury.
“I don’t think we’re really worried about getting him ready for the start of the season,” Roberts said. “I think that what we’re mindful of is not having a setback. The calendar’s our friend, so we’re not worried about getting him at-bats to get him ready for opening day.”
Ruiz working on swing adjustment
Roberts said catcher Keibert Ruiz, the Dodgers’ fourth-ranked prospect by Baseball America, hasn’t appeared in a Cactus League game yet because he’s been working on a swing change.
Ruiz, 21, batted .261 with a .679 OPS and six home runs in 85 games between double-A Tulsa and triple-A Oklahoma City last season. Roberts said he expects Ruiz will play Thursday or Friday.
“It’s not necessarily an overhaul at all, but just trying to clean some things up,” Roberts said. “I just wanted him to focus on the practice and mechanics of it before getting into a game where most players revert back to what they’re used to.”
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