Pitching in flux as camp enters final stage

March 17th, 2021

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Most of the Dodgers’ position battles were settled as the team entered camp in mid-February, but there are still a couple of key things to keep an eye on with just two weeks left in Spring Training. 

Here are four things to watch as camp enters its final stages. 

1) Who rounds out the starting rotation?

With the addition of Trevor Bauer this offseason and David Price returning after sitting out the 2020 season, the Dodgers had a problem that every other team in the big leagues would happily sign up for: a surplus of talent in the starting rotation. 

We know Clayton Kershaw will get the nod on Opening Day and Walker Buehler and Bauer will pitch behind him in some order. Behind those three, however, the Dodgers still have some questions to answer. 

Price looked like a lock to be in the rotation this season, but the left-hander made it clear that he is open to come out of the bullpen, if that’s what the team needed to try to win another World Series. Price’s willingness to head to the bullpen doesn’t mean the Dodgers will automatically take that route, but it does give the team more options heading into Opening Day.

Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Julio Urías are also competing for those last two rotation spots. Urías appears to be a likely addition to the rotation, but his success out of the bullpen in the postseason also makes him an option in that role. Gonsolin and May both had success last season and are viewed as big league starters.

The two pitchers who don’t make the rotation will likely start the season out of the bullpen. But in a season full of uncertainties, the Dodgers feel confident that all seven pitchers will get a start at some point this season.

2) Checking the radar gun

Kershaw allowed five runs on eight hits over four innings in his start on Tuesday. Diminished fastball velocity wasn’t the only reason for the left-hander’s struggles, but it surely played a role.

So far this spring, Kershaw has consistently been in the 88-91 mph range with the four-seam fastball. That’s slower than where he was at the start of last season and the 91.6 mph average he posted last season, which was an increase from the 90.3 mph average he posted in 2019.

“I’m not concerned about it,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, when asked about Kershaw’s velocity. “The velocity will tick up with the adrenaline [of playing in the regular season] … this is all part of the build-up process for these guys.”

Kershaw isn’t the only longtime Dodger who is battling velocity issues so far this spring. Kenley Jansen has also been in the 88-91 mph range. When he was at his best last season, the right-hander was sitting around 92-93 mph. With two weeks left and limited outings left this spring, all eyes will be on the radar gun.

3) Finishing out the bullpen

While the Dodgers could have two starters in the Opening Day bullpen, Los Angeles still has some questions regarding some of the relievers on the roster. Brusdar Graterol and Joe Kelly have been behind schedule this spring and both still appear likely to be off the Opening Day roster. Graterol has taken steps in the right direction over the last week, throwing a 25-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday. The right-hander has still not faced hitters this spring. 

In the event that Kelly and Graterol start the season on the injured list, the Dodgers could go with Dennis Santana and non-roster invite Jimmy Nelson as multi-inning relievers.

4) Bellinger’s shoulder and stance

Cody Bellinger made his Cactus League debut on Tuesday and showed off a new, more open batting stance. Bellinger insisted that the new batting stance has nothing to do with how opposing pitchers attacked him last season -- with inside fastballs -- but has more to do with his comfort level.

While his batting stance will be something to keep an eye on, it’ll also be worth monitoring how Bellinger’s timing progresses over the next two weeks. He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout on Tuesday and the Dodgers would like to get the slugger 30 to 40 at-bats before Opening Day in Colorado.