Knack makes first pitch for fifth spot in Dodgers' rotation

Top of Los Angeles' order expected to be unveiled in near future

February 24th, 2024

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers’ season will ultimately be judged by what happens over the next seven months and into the postseason. Whether it’s fair or not, that’s the level of expectation that comes after spending over $1 billion in free agency this winter.

Until then, the Dodgers are focusing on Spring Training and making sure they take the best 26-man roster for the Opening Series in Seoul, South Korea on March 20. That’s all off to a good start as Los Angeles has won its first two Cactus League games following a 4-1 win over the Padres on Friday at Camelback Ranch.

While the results of the games don’t matter to the Dodgers, there are still some things they want to see. Here are a few takeaways from Dodgers camp, nearly two weeks since it started.

Young hurlers and the fifth starter spot
Walker Buehler is still not facing live hitters -- that won’t happen until next week -- and will start the season on the injured list as he continues to recover from his second Tommy John surgery in 2022.

With Buehler out for at least a month of the regular season, the Dodgers have a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. The options include Gavin Stone, Landon Knack, Emmet Sheehan and Ryan Yarbrough.

Of the options, Stone and Sheehan appear to be the frontrunners. Stone is the Dodgers’ No. 4 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) and some evaluators believe he has the highest ceiling among the young crop of hurlers in the organization. Stone showed off better command, increased velocity and a wipeout changeup in the Dodgers’ 14-1 win on Thursday against the Padres. The right-hander struck out Fernando Tatis Jr. en route to a clean inning.

Sheehan, on the other hand, has not made it into a Cactus League game yet this spring, but might’ve already shown enough ability and potential to convince the Dodgers he’s the right man for the job. Sheehan had a really strong end to the season in 2023 and pitched valuable innings in relief during the postseason.

Yarbrough is the veteran of the bunch and might be too valuable in a swingman role to give him the No. 5 spot in the rotation. With the Dodgers not having a lockdown left-hander in the bullpen, Yarbrough could help in that role, while also being able to piggyback behind a starter in order to protect the bullpen.

Then there’s Knack, who is still trying to find a spot on the big league roster. The 26-year-old right-hander came into camp in better shape and looked sharp in his first Cactus League start, punching out four over two innings of work.

“I think right now there's a big bucket of pitchers that are just going to continue to build up,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “And like I said the other day, they're just going to keep building up to three, four, five innings and we'll see where we're at, and hopefully we have some tough decisions.”

Top of the order to be unveiled soon
While all the attention is on Shohei Ohtani and his rehab process, there’s also a lot of anticipation on where Ohtani, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman will hit atop the Dodgers’ lineup.

As of now, Roberts said it’s a “very safe bet” to assume that Betts will hit leadoff this season. Betts has made it known in the past that he feels comfortable atop the lineup, which is where he’s hit the majority of his career. Behind Betts, the decision is between Freeman and Ohtani.

“I’ve hit both so it doesn’t really bother me where I hit,” Freeman said. “I think you can ask all of us, one, two, three, four, five, it doesn’t matter. It’s just trying to get the best out of everyone else in the lineup and where we’re at. I think collectively we have nine guys that can hit one, two or three in our lineup, but I think we’re kind of set on something and we’ll see how it goes.”

Last season, Freeman hit second in every game he played. Ohtani split some time between second and third with the Angels. There’s really no wrong answer for the Dodgers, a scenario all other 29 teams would love to have.

Freeman and Roberts hinted that a decision on the top of the order has already been made.

“I think we’ll find out in a few days,” Freeman said with a smile. “I think Shohei and I are playing the same day.”