Spring Training has begun, and every team has its own storyline. Both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers will have an abbreviated Spring Training, forcing their managements to make decisions quickly. On March 16, both teams will board planes for a 17-hour flight to Australia, and their teams must be ready to go.
After missing the World Series by two victories, the Dodgers have a pretty established team, so manager Don Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti don't have many decisions to make before the regular season begins on March 22, unless a player gets injured.
Spring Training games began Feb. 26, with the Dodgers and the D-backs playing against each other for the first two. Zack Greinke started the second Cactus League game and made only four pitches before being forced to leave the game with a right calf strain. Though the Dodgers don't believe Greinke's injury is serious, they have scratched him from Tuesday's start. It's doubtful that Greinke will have enough arm strength to go to Australia to pitch in the opening two-game series.
Mattingly hasn't named the starting pitchers who will begin the season in Australia. Clayton Kershaw could pitch three Opening Days for the Dodgers, but Mattingly doesn't want him to. Coming off a marvelous season in which he won his second National League Cy Young Award and pitched 259 innings (including playoffs), Kershaw needs a lighter workload this year. I don't think Mattingly will want him pitching in Australia.
So far this spring, although it's early, the Dodgers have had superb pitching. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren and Josh Beckett have been excellent. I wouldn't be surprised if Ryu and Haren pitch in Australia.
On Sunday, Beckett pitched for the first time competitively since he had a rib removed to relieve pressure on a nerve. Last season, he struggled mightily while attempting to pitch with numb fingertips. The right-hander underwent a career-threatening surgery to solve the problem last July, but many didn't think he would pitch again in the Major Leagues. However, on Sunday against the San Diego Padres, Beckett pitched two innings with excellent control and three strikeouts. His curveball had a sharp downward break. If Beckett doesn't suffer a setback, he'll be the Dodgers' fifth starter.
The Dodgers' bullpen has looked strong. With the abbreviated Spring Training, it is doubtful that any starter can go longer than six innings, so having a strong bullpen will be necessary for the first month of the season.
During the offseason, many worried about how Mattingly would handle having four All-Star-caliber outfielders. So far this spring, it hasn't been an issue. Matt Kemp just recently received permission to begin running with his full body weight on his surgically-repaired left ankle. Jogging in the outfield is far from running the bases in a game. Kemp has looked great in batting practice, signaling that his twice surgically-repaired left shoulder is finally healed. The Dodgers don't have a timetable for Kemp to return, since the ankle injury was so serious. Right now, the club has three All-Star outfielders -- though Carl Crawford has been dealing with a tight quadriceps, limiting his playing time.
The competition for the everyday second-base job will dominate Dodgers Spring Training news until the team leaves for Australia. When Colletti decided not to re-sign Mark Ellis, a superb defensive second baseman, it left an important infield position wide open.
Last October, the Dodgers signed Cuban defector Alex Guerrero, a 27-year-old natural shortstop. Since Hanley Ramirez, the team's best hitter, plays short, the Dodgers wanted Guerrero to transition to second base during winter ball. A strained left hamstring limited his playing time during winter ball, making the transition to second base more difficult than the Dodgers planned.
So far this spring, Guerrero has made every play at second base. Although he has had a couple hits, whether he can hit Major League pitching remains a question. Guerrero is attempting to be the first Dodges position player to go straight to the Majors without spending a day in the Minor Leagues. Despite having questionable baserunning skills, Guerrero appears to be a quality Major Leaguer. If he can't begin the season in Los Angeles, Guerrero should be there by June.
Dee Gordon and Chone Figgins represent the Dodgers' backup plan for second base and utility players. Both were originally infielders, but they have spent some time in the outfield this spring. Gordon has displayed more power than in the past after gaining 13 pounds during the offseason. On Saturday, he laid down a perfect bunt that allowed him to use his extraordinary speed. If Gordon can continue to impress, he should be on the Opening Day roster as a reserve infielder, at least.
Figgins had a terrific career with the Angels before signing as a free agent with the Seattle Mariners. Like most hitters who have gone to Seattle, Figgins struggled, prompting the Mariners to release him before his lucrative contract was finished. A discouraged Figgins spent last season out of baseball and tried to rediscover his enjoyment for baseball. This spring as a non-roster invitee, Figgins is hoping to stay with the Dodgers. Defensively, the Dodgers don't have anyone who is as versatile as Figgins, but can he contribute offensively?
On paper, the Dodgers should be favorites to win the NL West. Every team has challenges to overcome. If the Dodgers are World Series caliber, they will do well despite having an abbreviated Spring Training.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.