Title drive begins with pitchers, catchers reporting
Back end of LA's rotation unsettled; Kemp question mark coming off surgery
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Judging from record season-ticket sales and the enthusiasm displayed at last weekend's Dodger Stadium FanFest, fans are ready.
The excitement has shifted to Arizona, where Dodgers pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Saturday. The first battery workout at Camelback Ranch-Glendale will be Sunday. Position players report next Thursday, with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Friday.
"I'm ready to go," Clayton Kershaw said, equipment bag slung over his shoulder as he headed for the clubhouse early Saturday morning.
Kershaw has a staggering $215 million contract and a second National League Cy Young Award. Manager Don Mattingly is no longer a lame duck, flush with a three-year extension. The new $8 billion television network -- the culmination of drama that led to bankruptcy and new ownership -- launches later this month with Orel Hershiser, Nomar Garciaparra, Jerry Hairston, Alanna Rizzo and John Hartung joining the broadcasting talent.
And, thankfully, Vin Scully returns for his 65th season in the booth, which begins in Australia, of all places, on March 22 against the D-backs.
Yet, even with another $230 million payroll, questions need to be answered, mostly centering on health. The club's late pursuit of Bronson Arroyo hints at concern over the recovery of fifth starter Josh Beckett from thoracic outlet syndrome. Chad Billingsley and Scott Elbert continue their rehabs from Tommy John surgery and aren't expected back until June and July, respectively.
And then there's Matt Kemp, coming off surgery to the vital talus bone in his left ankle, a tricky injury that could rob him of the speed that made him one of the elite players in the game.
Otherwise, the rotation has quality, with Kershaw followed by Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and free-agent signing Dan Haren. The Dodgers won't need a fifth starter until mid-April, and if Beckett isn't ready, Stephen Fife and Matt Magill are back; Rule 5 acquisition Seth Rosin could make the club; and Zach Lee and Ross Stripling are knocking on the door.
The bullpen has enough closers to just about fill a division. Kenley Jansen has the official title, but he is backed up by former All-Stars Brian Wilson, Chris Perez and Brandon League. J.P. Howell was re-signed and reunited with Paco Rodriguez as the complementary lefties. Jamey Wright returns as the long reliever after a one-year trip to Tampa Bay. There might not even be room for Chris Withrow.
Aside from Kemp, the big unknown in the lineup is second base. Cuban Alex Guerrero was signed to take over second base as the club let Mark Ellis leave for St. Louis. But Guerrero, a lifelong shortstop, hasn't adapted quickly to the other side of the bag, and his transition was hampered by a winter hamstring injury.
So, the scramble was on for fallbacks, as the club signed Chone Figgins, Justin Turner, Miguel Rojas and Brendan Harris to Minor League deals. Dee Gordon and Justin Sellers (last year's Opening Day shortstop) are also in the mix if Guerrero isn't ready.
Kemp's status isn't a crisis because the Dodgers never traded any of the other three outfielders over the winter. So, until Kemp demonstrates he's 100 percent, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig man the outfield from left to right.
Puig -- not given a chance to make the club a year ago -- is expected to be the leadoff hitter, switching places with Crawford because he's younger, healthier and more dynamic.
Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti have already talked about another challenge facing the club this spring -- a compressed offseason and accelerated training timetable because of the early start in Australia and the extended season last year that went to a sixth game in the NL Championship Series.
"With the Australia thing, it's coming quick," said Mattingly. "We've got to get our pitching ready. It's a little worry for me."
Other than second base, here's the lineup -- Adrian Gonzalez, 1B; Hanley Ramirez, SS; Juan Uribe, 3B; Crawford, LF, Ethier, CF; Puig, RF; A.J. Ellis, C.