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Once Mayfield's backup, this LA NRI turns heads

Betts gets first Dodgers hit; Kershaw, Buehler scheduled for spring debuts
@kengurnick
February 24, 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Cody Thomas homered to the opposite field on the first pitch he saw on Monday and soon would rob Blake Rutherford of a home run with a leaping catch at the right-field fence in the Dodgers’ 2-2 tie with the White Sox. Not bad for the former

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Cody Thomas homered to the opposite field on the first pitch he saw on Monday and soon would rob Blake Rutherford of a home run with a leaping catch at the right-field fence in the Dodgers’ 2-2 tie with the White Sox.

Not bad for the former backup to current Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield when they played at the University of Oklahoma.

Thomas is in his fifth professional season, but first big league camp as a non-roster invitee. He was drafted in the 13th round by the Dodgers in 2016 and signed for a $300,000 bonus to become a slugging outfielder, with 81 home runs in 437 games.

“He’s an interesting guy,” said manager Dave Roberts. “Football player, quarterback. The body, the skill set.”

Thomas, who saw brief action in the Sooners' Orange Bowl loss to Clemson in 2015, left football in '16 to focus on baseball. He said he used to miss it on Saturday, but less now that his class has graduated. He said the Dodgers have been patient as he’s tried to catch up from missed development.

“They’ve done an awesome job and it’s been an incredible experience and I’m so glad I’ve been a Dodger,” said Thomas. “They gave me a leash in the beginning to build up a catalog in my head of pitches. I definitely think I’m turning a corner in my career.”

• In the game, Mookie Betts went 2-for-3 and infielder Omar Estevez also slugged a solo home run.

Dylan Floro and Adam Kolarek pitched a scoreless inning each.

Justin Turner was in uniform but held out of drills and the game as he recovers from an annual lubricating injection into his arthritic left knee. The series of injections -- the first of which he had before camp opened -- are preventative, designed to aid joint movement and stave off pain and stiffness.

Turner has been having hyaluronic acid injections ever since undergoing microfracture surgery after the 2015 season.

Clayton Kershaw will make his Cactus League debut starting on Friday against Milwaukee at Maryvale. Walker Buehler will make his Cactus League debut on Saturday, starting against Arizona at Camelback Ranch.

Roberts again declined to name an Opening Day starting pitcher on Monday, but to those handicapping the rotation, note that Kershaw is slotted a day ahead of Buehler. Kershaw has been named to start Opening Day the last nine years, but was unable to make the start last year because of a sore shoulder.

Joc Pederson remained sidelined for a fourth day with a strained right hip.

"He's on a slow program because you just can't turn seven to 10 days into four weeks,” said Roberts. “We can always kind of make up the at-bats as we go forward."

• Non-roster utility man Connor Joe has left camp to attend to a personal issue and will be out indefinitely.

Joe, 27, made the Giants' Opening Day roster last year after being taken from the Dodgers by the Reds in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft, then traded to the Giants and later returned to the Dodgers. He spent most of last year at Triple-A Oklahoma City, batting .300 with a .929 OPS.

• Former Dodgers Andre Ethier and Chase Utley were in camp and in uniform as instructors.

Up next
Left-hander Victor Gonzalez, added to the 40-man roster during the offseason, gets the start on Tuesday against the D-backs at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. The 24-year-old from Mexico is a long shot to make the club but was impressive at three levels last year after returning from Tommy John surgery. First pitch is set for 12:10 p.m. PT, available live on MLB.TV.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.