Manager Dave Roberts’ message to Dodgers: Plan on playing through October again
The Dodgers held their first spring training workout for pitchers and catchers at Camelback Ranch on Thursday and things were different.
Adhering to Major League Baseball’s COVID-19 protocols, players were divided among two clubhouses. The team meeting was held outside in a batting cage. The clusters of fans that wander the grounds every year were absent.
But manager Dave Roberts’ message for the 2021 season was the same as last year’s message: Control the controllable and stay focused from start to finish.
“We weren’t going to be denied a championship last year,” Roberts said in the meeting in a video posted on the Dodgers’ social media accounts. “There’s no way. . . . This is a start of an eight-month season. We’re not trying to play through September. We have eight more months left.”
The Dodgers preached the mentality in 2020 en route to winning their first World Series title in 32 years. Now they’re attempting to be the first franchise to repeat as champions since the New York Yankees won three straight World Series from 1998 to 2000.
Thursday was the first time most of the team was together since beating the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6 of the World Series in October. The club dispersed from the Dallas suburbs the next day for the offseason. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow for a parade.
The Padres agreed with shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. on the longest contract ever, further cementing the Dodgers-Padres rivalry as the best in baseball.
Roberts said he opened an expensive bottle of wine — a 1989 or 1990 Margaux, Roberts wasn’t sure — and drank plenty of champagne during the offseason to commemorate the title. He said he’d be open to holding a World Series celebration during spring training if possible.
“I really am looking forward to getting everyone together to congratulate them,” Roberts said in a video conference with reporters Thursday. “But to be back in uniform, watching them on the field again, to kind of think back a little bit to 2020 but look out and look forward to 2021 is exciting.”
JANSEN TO OPEN SEASON AS CLOSER
Roberts reiterated that he expects Kenley Jansen to be the Dodgers closer when the season begins April 1. It’s a stance Roberts maintained during the offseason even after Julio Urías, not Jansen, closed out the National League Championship Series and World Series.
“I don’t think he was pitching his best in the postseason, but this is a new year,” Roberts said. “I expect him to have a great year. For me, I think he’s earned that opportunity to start out as our closer. But at the end of the day, I want the guys who are pitching the best to finish the game, and Kenley understands that, too.”
BUEHLER TO BE ‘MORE READY’
Walker Buehler’s young career already includes several dominant performances in high-stakes games. The Dodgers, however, would like to see Buehler avoid the slow starts that have plagued him in his three full major league seasons. With that, Roberts said Buehler won’t be held back in spring training as he was in the past.
Pitcher Brandon Morrow, right-hander Josiah Gray and third baseman Kody Hoese are among the 31 non-roster players invited to Dodgers spring training.
“He will be more ready than in past springs because he kept throwing throughout the offseason,” Roberts said. “Appreciating last year, where it was a shortened season, Walker just felt there were a lot of bullets left out there. So for him to continue to throw, to keep his arm moving, will prepare him best for 2021. So he’s done that. Threw a bullpen today and looked very sharp, considerably more crisp than he has in years past in bullpen No. 1.”
Roberts said the Dodgers haven’t had a person with the organization test positive for the virus as part of the mandatory in-take testing done before reporting to camp. . . . Clayton Kershaw reported to spring training Thursday, a day late, because the winter storm turmoil that has ravaged Texas delayed his arrival, according to Roberts. . . . Catcher Keibert Ruiz, one of the Dodgers’ top prospects, hasn’t reported to camp because of a visa issue, Roberts said. . . . Roberts said Joe Kelly and Mitchell White were held back from being full participants in Thursday’s workout. Roberts said Kelly’s arm became sore while playing catch.
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