Dodgers playing it safe early on with Buehler

Roberts expects club to finish atop improved National League West

February 18th, 2018

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Top Dodgers pitching prospect has yet to throw a Spring Training bullpen session because of upper back discomfort that surfaced during January workouts and set back his throwing program, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said on Sunday.

Buehler is able to do everything but throw off a mound, and that last hurdle is expected to be cleared soon, according to Friedman.

"This was muscle discomfort, so we're just being cautious and it pushed back his program a little bit," Friedman said. "We ran tests, everything's fine. But we have the luxury of time right now. So by delaying things in January, it had a snowball effect. He's been aggressively doing flat-ground work. The natural progression is then to get on the mound soon. I don't know exactly when, but he's doing well."

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Buehler, 23, could get a chance to start at the Major League level this season, but because he threw only 88 2/3 innings last season in the Minors and is two years removed from Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers want to ration his innings early on so he will be fresh late in the season without a sharp spike in total innings pitched.

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Friedman said the medical tests that kept Buehler off the field Thursday were related to the back discomfort and came back clean.

• Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he expected his team to win the National League West last season, and he said it again on Sunday in the wake of the latest divisional acquisition -- Eric Hosmer by the Padres.

"Last year, I saw the NL West was probably the best division in baseball, and I believe it's just as good as any other division, if not the best," Roberts said. "I don't know where it's going to shake out, but we expect to be at the top of the division. You look at all those clubs in our division, they all got better. But it's going to be fun."

• Every Dodgers player reported to Camelback Ranch by Sunday with the first full-squad workout on Monday. Right-hander Ross Stripling will return to camp on Monday from attending a wedding.

In Sunday's limited workout, pitchers , Pat Venditte, , , C.C. Lee, and threw live batting practice to catchers , , , , Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith.

Alex Wood is expected to throw his first full bullpen session on Monday. He tweaked his right ankle on Thursday and threw a brief bullpen session on Saturday.

• Club officials seem to be giving a long early look at left-handed starting pitcher , a former Red Sox first-round pick from Edison High School in Huntington Beach.

Owens pitched in the Majors in 2015-16, but a lack of control kept him in the Minors in 2017, when he walked 115 in 126 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.