Dodgers spring training a good sign for regular season?

LOS ANGELES – For the first time since Oct. 1, the Dodgers played in the majestic confines of Dodger Stadium Monday night, just a few days before the team hit the road to play their season opener against the Colorado Rockies (an 8-5 defeat).

But first things first. A synopsis or quick look at the season for the Dodgers could be tied into how the team performed during spring training. Granted, it was just a spring training game, but a game in their home ballpark meant much more. Especially, after the Dodger ran the gauntlet inside Globe Life Park in Arlington, TX last postseason. A postseason that crowned Los Angeles as the 2020 World Series champions.

While no fans were allowed inside the stadium for their March 29  game against the Los Angeles Angels, 11,000 rowdy Dodger fans will be welcomed at the home opener on April 9 when the Dodgers finally get to celebrate their crowning achievement that has been haunting the franchise for the past 32 years.

On a cool, 66-degree night in Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers and the Angels played their second to last game of spring training, with the regular season looming on Thursday. While recorded crowd noise pumped through the speakers during play, the lack of actual humans was felt through the 56,000-seat stadium.

There was no smell of Dodger Dogs and not even a glimmer of the famous peanut tossing vendor on the Loge level. At moments, you could hear a pin drop, while serene, still uncanny for America’s pastime.

Corey Seager-Los Angeles Dodgers vs Oakland Athletics
Sunday, February 28, 2021 at Hohokam Park in Mesa, Arizona. The Dodgers beat the A’s 2-1Photo by Jon SooHoo/©Los Angeles Dodgers,LLC 2021

The biggest news of the evening came before the first pitch when Dave Roberts announced in his pregame press conference with the media that Dustin May will be the fifth starter in the Dodgers pitching rotation. The final spot came down to May, Tony Gonsolin and David Price.

“I think it was easy, it was tough,” Roberts said. “Just a lot of variables that I really don’t want to get into.”

Roberts also explained that in addition to Price and Gonsolin, Jimmy Nelson, the eighth starter on the depth chart, will be used as “leverage” relievers for multiple innings.

“I can see these guys even finishing games,” Roberts said. “Having three in the ‘pen that are Major League starters that can take down innings, I think is very valuable and I don’t think any team in baseball can say they have that.”

Roberts also confirmed that utility player Zach McKinstry also cracked the Opening Day roster. The 25-year-old made his Major League debut last season and will be the 13th and final position player on the 26-man roster.

“You look at our roster, a potential right-handed bench bat on paper might fit a little bit better,” Roberts said. “But I just think Zach’s versatility, his ability to take a good at-bat off the bench, on the bases and still throughout his career handle left-handed pitching – he’ll get a start in Colorado – but just love him on the team.”

As for the final roster spot, that’ll be a bullpen arm and according to Roberts will come down to Scott Alexander or Dennis Santana.

The game itself was an offensive powerhouse performance for the Boys in Blue against the star Japanese pitcher in the Angels Shohei Ohtani. Behind home runs from Chris Taylor (2-run/390-feet), Corey Seager (solo/394-feet) and Will Smith (3-run/378-feet), the Dodgers found themselves up 7-0 before the third inning ended.

Michael Grove and Tim Federowicz-Los Angeles Dodgers vs Oakland Athletics
Sunday, February 28, 2021 at Hohokam Park in Mesa, Arizona. The Dodgers beat the A’s 2-1Photo by Jon SooHoo/©Los Angeles Dodgers,LLC 2021

Ohtani struggled with his command and left a few pitches over the plate to which the Dodgers power bats promptly smacked over the outfield fence. Ohtani left the game after just 2 and 1/3 innings pitched, in what appeared to be an issue with his index and middle fingers on his pitching hand. The struggles of Ohtani have been on display all spring (0-3 in four starts and an ERA above 12.00) and the Dodgers took advantage.

Julio Urias made his final spring training appearance for the Dodgers and made sure he entered the 2021 regular season with momentum. Urias ended his preseason with a 3-1 record in five starts, with 12 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.69. Urias was phenomenal from the get-go in Monday’s game and at one point had a perfect game through the first 10 batters before Phil Gosselin (who pinch-hit for Ohtani) came up in the top of the fourth and smacked a 373-foot home run over the left-field fence.

Urias was able to limit the damage and promptly struck out Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon in the at-bats that followed. Urias ended the night with 5 and 2/3 innings pitched, with an earned run and three strikeouts.

Cody Bellinger added a solo (400-foot) home run of his own in the bottom of the fifth to push the lead to seven and the Dodgers were able to hold the lead the rest of the evening. Young prospects Miguel Vargas and DJ Peters added an RBI plate appearance of their own in the bottom of the seventh and pushed the lead to nine.

Bullpen appearances from Cory Knebel, Kenley Jansen and Jimmy Nelson carried Urias’ work to the ninth where roster hopeful Scott Alexander took over to get work in. Alexander did not have a clean inning, giving up two hits and a run and also hit a batter but was able to get the necessary three outs, limiting the damage.

After the game, Dave Roberts spoke shortly on the final bullpen spot and the plans for Santana pitching in Tuesday’s game as part of the process to making the final decision.

“Dennis was available tonight, but he will pitch tomorrow,” Roberts said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily all on spring training, history, it’s kind of all of it put together and who we feel best about breaking with us on Opening Day. We have to make a decision as an organization.”