The Batter’s Box: Dodgers return from Camelback Ranch


Photo courtesy of John Verive

Dodger Stadium on Opening Day. Photo courtesy of John Verive.

Cliff Connors, Contributor

It was a dark and stormy opening night. Well, meteorologically. The Dodgers’ first game was played after sunset, and it had been raining throughout the day. The product on the field was as bright as can be, and the Boys in Blue opened their season with an 8-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Before we get to Opening Day, let’s take a look at what has happened over the month of spring training, played at the Camelback Ranch-Glendale facility in Phoenix, Arizona. From heartbreaking injuries to unlikely heroes and new contributors thrust into the fold, there’s a lot to talk about.

The biggest headline of the Dodgers’ spring training isn’t a happy one for Los Angeles. Gavin Lux, who was in line to become the everyday starting shortstop after improving with every season in the majors, tore his ACL and underwent season-ending surgery. Lux will be back on the field next season, but in the meantime, it’s a major league downer for everybody involved.

The injury created a shortstop competition in spring training. The most likely candidates to earn the pivotal position were Chris Taylor and the off-season trade acquisition Miguel Rojas. Taylor struggled in spring, showing a lot of the same strikeout problems that plagued his 2022 season. Rojas, who was deemed a depth piece upon his arrival, earned his spot as the captain of the infield on Opening Day.

Ryan Yoo, a Cal State LA alumnus with a major in political science, pointed out the strategy in the acquisition of Rojas.

“I don’t think the clubhouse will suffer from a lack of veteran and star presence. We picked up Jason Heyward and J.D. Martinez in the off-season,” Yoo said. “True, they’re not Justin Turner, but they offer some leadership. We still have Betts, Freddie, and acquiring Rojas was smart from a clubhouse perspective, since there were reports that he spent a lot of time with [Miguel] Vargas working on defense.”

Another injury opened a spot for a rookie to become the #5 starter in the Dodger pitching rotation. Tony Gonsolin suffered a sprained ankle during a routine practice drill and has been out since the injury, which happened three weeks ago.

Manager Dave Roberts gave an update recently on his status, eyeing a return at the end of April. So suddenly, there’s another open spot on the Dodgers pitching roster.

Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove, two valued prospects in the Dodgers system, battled it out in spring training, and Pepiot prevailed, securing the fifth and final starting spot.

But then there was another injury!

Just before Opening Day, Pepiot was placed on the 15-day injured list with an oblique strain. No timeline has been set for his return, so Gonsolin may return before Pepiot gets his shot.

Michael Grove was elevated to the Opening Day roster in his place. He will start Monday against the Rockies at Dodger Stadium.

Spring training also gave opportunities for players to surprise everyone and get in the conversation for the major league roster. Three players for the Dodgers did so, namely, Jason Heyward, Gavin Stone and James Outman.

Veteran big leaguer Jason Heyward was signed to a minor-league deal in the off-season, but he got off to a hot start in spring training and earned a spot where he will presumably back up all the outfield positions.

Stone was one of the most exciting performers of the spring. He pitched in four games, never giving up a run and recording fourteen strikeouts (to just two walks) in 6⅔ innings. However, the organization will be patient with him, and he will start the season in the minors with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

James Outman was considered a bit of an afterthought to make the Opening Day roster, but he was fantastic in spring training, forcing his way onto the team and earning the opening start in center field. He delivered, blasting the first home run of the Dodgers’ season over the left field wall on Opening Day.

Another rookie, Miguel Vargas, preceded Outman in the lineup. Vargas was a lock to make the major league roster throughout spring training, and the pair of newbies signify a change in mentality for the Dodgers of past seasons. Instead of making huge deals for superstars in the off-season, Los Angeles gave opportunities to some of their home-grown players who they’ve drafted and brought up through the minor league system.

Alyssa Ramirez, a Cal State LA journalism major, analyzed the Dodgers’ new philosophy.

“Showcasing hot new talent is [going to] show what the Dodgers have in store for the season,” Ramirez said. “I think they’re depending on their rookies and already ‘owned’ hot stars this year. They have Outman, Betts, Urías, and so many other power players… Will it be challenging because they lost beneficial players? Possibly, but I think [the Dodgers] know what they’re doing.”

Jose Cabrera, another journalism major, discussed the Dodgers organization’s sterling track record with home-grown players.

“The young talent has worked out really [well] for the Dodgers because they have produced talents like Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and more due to good scouting and management,” Cabrera said. “For Miguel Vargas and James Outman, they get to prove themselves on the big stage.”

Max Muncy put up hopeful numbers in spring training after a down year in 2022, but his season got off to a very rough start, achieving the ignominious feat of the “platinum sombrero” on Opening Day: striking out five times. He’s the first Dodger to do so since 2008, according to Blake Harris of “Thinking Blue with Blake Harris.”

Now, to Opening Day. The Dodgers fell behind early, trailing 2-0 through two innings. Julio Urías faltered a bit to start, demonstrating a worry some fans had that Urías’ great numbers from last year were skewed by unsustainable rates of holding baserunners on (and not letting them score). However, he settled in quickly, firing four more strong innings en route to a quality start and a win.

Urías is a free agent after the season. He is coming off a stellar 2022 where he finished third in NL Cy Young voting with a 2.16 ERA. Ryan Yoo discussed other factors with his performance that may affect his season, which is pivotal to the Dodgers’ success as their premiere ace.

“Urías complained in the off-season about the Dodgers not letting him go deeper into games, and, the way I see it, it’s [because] of pitch count,” Yoo said. “Urías is able to get ahead in the count reliably, but he’s not always the best at putting hitters away on two strikes. Added pitches means [fewer] innings, and if he wants to go deeper, hitters have to be put away more quickly. Losing Bellinger is huge, as he had a great glove and great arm in the outfield.”

The restructured roster for Los Angeles also featured five Latino Opening Day starters, a welcome development that reflects the fanbase. It comes just one year after the odd but innocuous coincidence where every Opening Day starter for the Dodgers other than Mookie Betts was white.

J.D. Martinez is of Cuban descent, Miguel Vargas is Cuban, David Peralta and Miguel Rojas are Venezuelan, and Julio Urías is Mexican.

The Dodgers open their season with four divisional series: the Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Diamondbacks again, then their perpetual rival, the San Francisco Giants. After a series against the Chicago Cubs (Bellinger’s new squad), their first marquee matchup is playing host to the New York Mets.

After a long off-season, the Dodgers have finally returned to Chavez Ravine. Baseball is back.

“The Batter’s Box” is a recurring column in the University Times, covering the Los Angeles Dodgers and Major League Baseball. If you would like to be interviewed for the next piece, please email [email protected].