Despite placing Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list, Yasiel Puig showing continued signs of immaturity in Australia, and Matt Kemp still finishing up his rehabilitation from off-season ankle surgery, among other concerns facing the Los Angeles Dodgers early in the season–the team entered its home opener yesterday against the San Francisco Giants with a 4-1 record, a packed Dodger Stadium, and a host of luminaries eager to get the crowd excited on the way to a sure victory! Errr…not so fast! Before the game had even started, fans learned that Puig had arrived to Dodger Stadium late and was benched by Dodgers’ Manager Don Mattingly. Whatever pleasant thoughts remained then came to a screeching halt in the very first inning, when two outs and empty bases turned into four singles, two doubles, three walks (one intentional), one error, and…SIX runs. The crowd still hadn’t recovered, when the Dodgers gave up two more two-out runs in the top of the second inning. The wise thing to do, at this point, would probably be to end the article, call Friday a ‘bad day’ and move on to Saturday’s game–but there was actually a lot to take away from this disastrous home opener.
1. Matt Kemp Returned to the Lineup
Prior to the game, Kemp had been activated from the disabled list, except that he wasn’t scheduled to start the game, and apparently, wasn’t too happy about Mattingly’s decision. Of course, Puig got benched, and there was Kemp–in the starting lineup, after all. He acquitted himself pretty well after not having played in last season’s playoffs or in spring training, drawing a walk in the third inning, and driving in a run with a double in the fifth and later scoring on an Ethier single. He did, however, strike out with a runner on third and two outs in the sixth inning when he had noticeable difficulty trying to catch up to three consecutive 95 mph-plus fastballs from Juan Gutierrez (against whom he had previously had four hits in six at-bats with no strikeouts). He also committed an error in the first inning by misplaying Michael Morse’s single, preventing him from having any chance at attempting to throw Buster Posey out at home, and allowing Morse to advance to second base. The important news, however, is that he appeared healthy and ready to contribute as he had in seasons past when not decimated by various injuries.
2. Bullpen Was Stellar
Certainly unnoticed while Dodgers fans were still in shock over the eight runs allowed by starter Hyun-jin Ryu in the first two innings, the Dodgers’ bullpen was lights-out for seven innings:
Jose Dominguez – 2 innings pitched, no hits, no walks, three strikeouts
Brandon League – 2 innings pitched, no hits, one walk, three strikeouts
Chris Withrow – 2 innings pitched, no hits, no walks, four strikeouts
Jamey Wright – 1 inning pitched, no hits, no walks
That’s seven combined innings, no hits, one walk, and ten strikeouts! There really isn’t much else to say about that–the bullpen gave the team a chance to climb back into the game, and the Dodgers got as close as 8-4 with a runner on third in the sixth inning. Dominguez and League were particularly impressive, because both had struggled mightily either in spring training (i.e. League) or early in the season (i.e. Dominguez).
3. Dodgers Luminaries Were Out in Full Force
During pre-game ceremonies, the Dodgers rolled out a number of team legends such as, Vin Scully, Tommy Lasorda, Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Ron Cey, Tommy Davis, Maury Wills, Don Newcombe, and Rick Monday (in no particular order). Team owner and figure-head, Magic Johnson, escorted Scully to the mound for the ceremonial first-pitch. After many years of not appearing to place much emphasis on reaching out to team legends and luminaries, the Dodgers’ new ownership group has made it a point to involve just about everyone who has ever been involved with the Dodgers. For instance, the team brought back Ross Porter–a former, long-time TV and radio voice for the team–to be the PA announcer for the game. The team had already brought him back toward the end of last season to throw out a ceremonial first-pitch. While this should really only be filed under the heading of ‘good karma’–these types of efforts by ownership can go a long way in establishing goodwill with the fan-base, the media, as well as with current and former employees of the franchise–including players and coaches, of course.
So now Don Mattingly has some work to do–the Dodgers already announced Saturday morning that Puig would be back in the lineup, hitting lead-off, for Saturday’s 1:10 p.m. game. Kemp, in a sign that he is fully healthy, is also penciled in to the starting lineup, hitting fifth. Mattingly already had to address Puig’s continued immaturity in Australia, and Puig, to his credit, called a team meeting to discuss the team’s concerns. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Puig was paying very close attention to the team’s concerns when he decided–just about two weeks later–to show up late to Dodger Stadium for the team’s home opener. Everyone knows that ‘reigning in’ Puig was going to be a season-long task for Donnie Baseball, and both the team and fans can only hope that Puig eventually comes around and keeps everyone’s focus squarely on his baseball skills. As for Kemp, Mattingly probably lucked out in finding a way to get Kemp in the starting lineup for Friday’s game after Puig’s benching, because Kemp has been known to pout, and there were several indications that the sting of being benched for the home opener may have lingered for a while. If the Dodgers can come back and win the final two games of this home-opening series, they will be 6-2 and back ahead of the Giants for first place in the NL West. While it is still very early in the season, of course, finishing this series with two victories would stave off much of the ‘doom and gloom’ talk that started when the team announced that Kershaw would remain on the disabled list for at least 2-3 weeks before being reevaluated. More importantly, though, winning would be a strong sign to the outside world that this team is resilient, determined, and–nothing–will stand in the way of the Dodgers reaching the World Series.