LOS ANGELES -- To open the 2019 MLB season on Thursday, a fine-tuned Dodgers team will host a rebuilt D-backs, and the player that represents both is A.J. Pollock.
While Arizona’s new look also will be missing Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin, among others, Pollock made the switch from Arizona to be the starting center fielder in Los Angeles, perhaps to become the missing piece in the Dodgers’ elusive championship puzzle.
Coincidentally, a dozen years ago current Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went from the Padres to the Giants, then opened the season as the starting center fielder against his former club. He was so excited coming off the field that he turned his ankle on the dugout steps an hour before game time and needed a shot to get through it. He said he’ll tell Pollock to be careful.
“Might as well get it out of the way right away,” Pollock said of the familiar foe. “It’s weird to say, but it’s just another game. There’s 162 of them. I’m sure they’ll be ready to play, and I feel the team’s in a good spot right now, so I’m excited.”
Pollock was signed after the trade of outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to play center field and provide right-handed balance to a left-handed lineup. Joe Kelly was signed to bolster the bullpen, and the Dodgers traded for Russell Martin to pair with Austin Barnes behind the plate after Yasmani Grandal signed with Milwaukee.
“We saw A.J. the other day for the first time in spring and he doesn’t look good in blue, let me just tell you that,” Arizona shortstop Nick Ahmed joked. “He was here for such a long time. Him and I were really close, but it’s just part of the game. Guys get to that point and move on, and he moved on to a place where he and his family are going to be very happy and hopefully have a good time. But we’re counting on beating him every time we step on the field.”
Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same Dodgers team that reached the World Series the past two seasons. The last team to win a World Series after losing back-to-back was the 1923 Yankees. And it’s pretty much an unrecognizable D-backs club with Goldschmidt, the perennial MVP candidate, now in St. Louis.
“We played them a couple days ago … they’ve got a different look for sure, they’ve got a lot of different players,” Pollock said of the D-backs. “Other than that, I don’t really know too much about them. We’re gonna do our scouting pretty soon here. As far as us, I think we have a lot of talent and a lot of good players. Lot of guys who can play different positions … some good arms. Just excited for this team to get rolling.”
Arizona manager Torey Lovullo, like Roberts a UCLA alum and Southern California native, is excited about the opener and the season that follows.
“I think we’ve circled that Opening Day on our calendars when it first came out, and we all know that that’s part of the start of this new season,” Lovullo said. “And we have great expectations, like everybody. There’s 29 other teams that are having the same conversations that we’re having in this clubhouse, and it’s time for us to go out there and show the rest of the league that we’re here to perform and do our thing the way we know how to do it.
"Whether it’s a home game or a road game, we approach it the same. But there’s something just a little more exciting about Opening Day and having it be the Dodgers. It should be a pretty special time.”
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Thursday, March 28, 1:10 p.m. PT; MLB.TV; SportsNet LA; ESPN (Out of market only); SportsNet LA Spanish; Radio AM 570 LA Sports; KTNQ 1020.
The starting lineups
D-backs: The D-backs' lineup will fluctuate throughout the year based on matchups. Lovullo has been tight-lipped about what it will look like on Opening Day, so it's anyone's guess. With right fielder Steven Souza Jr. out for the year due to season-ending surgery on his left knee, Ketel Marte will likely play more center than initially planned, and Adam Jones could be the starter in right.
1) Adam Jones, RF
2) Eduardo Escobar, 3B
3) David Peralta, LF
4) Wilmer Flores, 2B
5) Jake Lamb, 1B
6) Ketel Marte, CF
7) Nick Ahmed, SS
8) Carson Kelly, C
9) Zack Greinke, P
Dodgers: Like the D-backs, the Dodgers tweak their lineups as the analytics suggest, but the eight position starters have essentially been locked in since the winter. Joc Pederson and Pollock have shared the 1 and 5 slots, while Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger could be switched in the 4 and 6 spots.
1) Joc Pederson, LF
2) Justin Turner, 3B
3) Corey Seager, SS
4) Max Muncy, 1B
5) A.J. Pollock, CF
6) Cody Bellinger, RF
7) Enrique Hernandez, 2B
8) Austin Barnes, C
9) Hyun-Jin Ryu, P
Who are the starting pitchers?
D-backs: Greinke has put together back to back strong seasons, and this spring he said he's feeling better physically than he has in several years. This will be his third Opening Day start for the D-backs and fourth of his career.
Dodgers: Injuries to Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Rich Hill left the honor to Ryu, the first Korean to start Opening Day for the Dodgers since Chan Ho Park in 2001.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
D-backs: The D-backs will open the season with Greg Holland as the closer and Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano serving in setup roles. Andrew Chafin is the team’s lone lefty as T.J. McFarland will start the year on the Injured List.
Dodgers: Closer Kenley Jansen is healthy, but will he be dominating? Pedro Baez and Kelly handle setup. Scott Alexander is the primary left-hander. Yimi Garcia and Dylan Floro fill the middle innings. Caleb Ferguson is long relief. One spot remains to be filled.
Any injuries of note?
D-backs: Souza will miss the entire season after sustaining a devastating left knee injury Monday night. McFarland, a key member of the Arizona bullpen last year, will open the season on the injured list after being slowed this spring with shoulder inflammation.
Dodgers: Starters Kershaw (shoulder), Hill (left knee) and reliever Tony Cingrani (left shoulder) begin the season on the injured list.
Who is hot and who is not?
D-backs: Left-hander Robbie Ray has pitched well this spring, especially compared to last year when his velocity was down a tick. Lamb has played well defensively while moving from third base to first, but he has struggled at the plate.
Dodgers: When isn’t Turner hot? Ryu had 12 strikeouts and no walks in his five Spring starts.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• Pregame ceremonies on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium will celebrate the life and legacy of former Rookie of the Year, four-time All-Star, Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player Don Newcombe, who passed away on February 19 at the age of 92. The Dodgers will also debut their Don Newcombe memorial uniform patch, which they will continue to wear throughout the 2019 season in recognition of “Newk’s” contributions to the franchise, on and off the field. The Newcombe memorial patch will also be worn by the Morningside, Inglewood, Dominguez and Centennial High School baseball teams this spring.
• This is the first time the D-backs have opened the season on the road (aside from 2014 in Australia) since '11 when they faced the Rockies in Colorado.
• The Dodgers are 2-1 when they open in March and 3-2 when they open against Arizona. The D-backs are 1-3 when they open in March.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.
Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.