Dodgers open new chapter in Arizona
Cactus League schedule begins with road game vs. Cubs
PHOENIX -- A franchise rich in history opens a new chapter Wednesday when the Dodgers launch their first full Arizona Spring Training exhibition season with a rematch of their National League Division Series win, against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa.
It's the first of four consecutive road games for the Dodgers, allowing construction workers a few extra days to apply finishing touches to the new stadium at Camelback Ranch-Glendale, which opens Sunday when the Dodgers play their joint-venture partners, the Chicago White Sox.
The traveling roster posted in the clubhouse Tuesday included outfielders Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Juan Pierre and starting infielders Casey Blake and James Loney. Not on the travel list are catcher Russell Martin (who had been slowed by a strained foot) and middle infielders Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson, who had operations last year for injuries to their back and wrist, respectively.
Journeyman Claudio Vargas, a free agent signed to compete for the fifth-starter spot, will be the Dodgers' starting pitcher. Eric Milton and Ramon Troncoso, also competing for that job, also are scheduled to pitch.
The games mark another milestone in the Dodgers' move to Arizona, the first stage of which actually occurred last year, when the Dodgers played six exhibition games in Arizona after the two-game goodwill series in China against the Padres. The Dodgers were 11-18 last spring, which was conducted in three states and on two continents.
General manager Ned Colletti has been a big booster of the Dodgers' move to Arizona, having previously worked for the Cubs and Giants, clubs with Arizona spring bases.
"I love training here," said Colletti. "This camp has started off great and it's going to get better. We have questions to answer and we'll start getting the answers [Wednesday] when games start. If we didn't have questions, some would pop up. So the competition is good for us."
The Manny Ramirez saga notwithstanding, the Dodgers need to find a fifth starter, probably two bullpen spots and one backup infielder.
Joe Torre, in his second season as Dodgers manager, is in his first full Arizona Spring Training as a player or manager. Having known the routes to each Florida ballpark by heart, Torre will begin acclimating to the logistics of the Cactus League on Wednesday.
"We've got things to figure out, like where to take batting practice," he said. "We'll hit in Mesa [Wednesday]. Florida is different than Arizona. In Florida [with long bus rides], you usually dress over there. In Arizona, you can dress here and hit here and just go for the game. We'll play with it and see what works best for us."
Torre said he will continue to choose his travel rosters "by feel," but will try to keep Furcal and Hudson in the same group "for obvious reasons," so they become comfortable as a double-play combination. He said he had planned to leave Pierre back, but the outfielder asked to play.
"You want to keep the trips even for the regular players and the guys trying to make the club will make them all," Torre said. "I know from my time in the Grapefruit League, you'd see the Cactus League scores were always 12-10 and 14-13. That makes evaluation tougher."
Although both the Dodgers and Cubs are National League teams, Torre and Chicago manager Lou Piniella agreed to use the designated hitter in Wednesday's opener to allow more at-bats for position players.
The Cubs' main winter acquisition was former Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley, while their key losses were pitchers Kerry Wood and Jason Marquis.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.