Like camps past, spring to be busy for LA
Dodgers will again sojourn to Far East for exhibition games
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers pitchers, catchers and world travelers open Spring Training at the end of the week.
Now skipper Joe Torre knows the drill. His first spring as Dodgers manager included a trip to China. His second spring as Dodgers manager included the franchise's first-ever Cactus League season and the opening of the Camelback Ranch-Glendale complex.
This spring, the Dodgers return to Camelback Ranch and Asia. Pitchers and catchers report Saturday for physicals. The first workout for pitchers, catchers and injured position players is Sunday. On Feb. 25, the remainder of the position players report for physicals, and Feb. 26 is the first full-squad workout.
And for the second time in three springs, camp will be interrupted by a trans-Pacific flight and Asian exhibitions. Two years ago, it was a two-game goodwill series against the Padres in Beijing as a warmup for the Summer Olympics.
This spring, a Dodgers split squad will visit Taiwan for two exhibition games against a team from the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Few regulars are expected to make the trip, with James Loney and Jamey Carroll probable exceptions. The Dodgers last visited Taiwan in 1993. A Dodgers split squad will also play a March 31 game in Las Vegas against the Reds.
Torre is entering the final season of a three-year contract. Talks for an extension and post-managing role with the organization haven't materialized into either yet, although Torre denies that uncertainty over owner Frank McCourt's divorce is the reason.
Meanwhile, Torre welcomes back a ballclub very similar to the one that lost to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series for the second consecutive year in 2009.
General manager Ned Colletti spent most of the offseason watching from the sidelines. Skeptics and player agents suggest his hands were tied because of financial limitations. Of course, the club's business model had been moving toward a more frugal youth movement anyway.
Add in the weak economy, and the club decided to pass on Randy Wolf (signed by Milwaukee for $29 million) but keep Vicente Padilla (who signed for $24 million less.) All-Star Orlando Hudson has been replaced at second base by some combination of Ronnie Belliard, Jamey Carroll and Blake DeWitt. Juan Pierre was dealt and replaced as the fourth outfielder by Reed Johnson.
Except for a pinch-hitter here and a long reliever there, the main drama should be competition for the fifth-starter job. James McDonald, Scott Elbert, Eric Stults, Charlie Haeger, Josh Lindblom, Carlos Monasterios and Russ Ortiz (non-roster invitee) are included in that cattle-call tryout.
The offense is led by a potentially dominant outfield of Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the starting rotation by ace-in-training Clayton Kershaw and the bullpen by All-Star closer Jonathan Broxton and George Sherrill.
Ramirez missed the first three weeks of camp last spring while angling for a new contract, but he's signed and expected to be on time. He figures to be highly motivated in the final season of his current deal, needing to rehab an image tarnished by lasted year's shortened spring, a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and a late-season fade.
There really isn't a major injury rehab to follow, now that Jason Schmidt can't be kicked around anymore. But there is Hiroki Kuroda, in the last year of his contract and coming off a season in which he won eight games and nearly lost his career when he was drilled on the head by a comebacker.
Kuroda could be a key to the rotation and the club was concerned when word came from Japan that he still had neck pain associated with a bulging disk, presumably a side effect of the liner off his head. But Kuroda said aggressive acupuncture treatment provided relief and he's been throwing for more than a month.
Wolf and Hudson are the biggest names of the free agents who left, joined by Juan Castro, Jon Garland, Mark Loretta, Eric Milton, Guillermo Mota, Will Ohman, Schmidt and Jim Thome.
But a handful of free agents stayed. Padilla and Belliard head that list, joined by Jeff Weaver (non-roster invitee), Brad Ausmus and Doug Mientkiewicz (non-roster invitee).
Among the spring subplots worth watching will be the continuing progress of Kershaw and the rebounds of Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley and Rafael Furcal.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.