Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers to open season after injury-filled spring

Major League Baseball’s spring training is too long.

It’s been six weeks since pitchers and catchers reported to training camps in Arizona and Florida and we are still three days away from opening day. Baseball is a traditional sport and old traditions like six-week long training camps are hard to change.

Sixth and 70 years ago baseball players needed six weeks or more to get into shape to play a long baseball season. Back in  those days when the average player earned $6,000 or so a season, ballplayers had second jobs in the off-season and couldn’t always stay in tip-top shape.

But here in 2016, the average player earns $4 million a year and can train year-round, meaning the players don’t need six weeks to get into shape.

I’m not saying the long spring training is the reason the Dodgers have so many injured players going into the season this year. I just wonder.

After three consecutive division-winning seasons, the Dodger open the season April 4 with some forecasters expecting them to finish no better than third in the National League West. If they can’t stay healthy they will be lucky to finish that high, but injuries are a part of every season.

It is quite possible that currently injured players like outfielder Andre Ethier and pitchers Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu will get well enough to strengthen the team down the stretch.

That said, it’s hard to say the Dodgers are a better team heading into the 2016 season as they were at the end of the 2015 season.

For one thing, their second best pitcher last season, Zack Greinke, is pitching for division rival the Arizona Diamondbacks. That makes the Diamondbacks better than they were last year.

After Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers starting pitching staff has a sharp dropoff. Which Scott Kazmir will show up, the one who won 15 games for Oakland in 2014 or the one the Angels released weeks into the 2011 season?

In spring training, he looked a lot like the pitcher who went 7-11 last season, which he split between Oakland and Houston.

Japanese import Kenta Maeda looks more like a number two starter than Kazmir. Alex Wood is probably the number four starter with the number five starter still to be determined. Mike Bolsinger, who filled that role for most of last season, would be a solid selection except for an abdominal muscle injury that may force him to the disabled list to start the season.

Carlos Frias, who bounced back and forth between the Dodgers and the minors last year and from the starting rotation to the bullpen when he was here, will probably start game five April 8 against the San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers have a few youngsters in the minors waiting to step up to the big leagues, if necessary. Ryu is due back in June and Anderson could be back after the all-star game.

The bullpen should be better than it was last year (that isn’t saying much). If Chris Hatcher can be the bridge from the seventh inning to Kenley Jansen in the ninth, the Dodgers will have improved considerably.

There are plenty of young arms that can throw hard competing for the seventh inning setup slot and J,P. Howell is a veteran who can get the situational lefthander out.

Jansen is one of the best closers in the majors and figures to be a stalwart again in what could be his last season with the Dodgers. He becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

On the other side of the ball, the Dodgers figure to be better than last year — if they stay healthy.

Ethier was their mist productive outfielder last season and he is out until at least July after breaking his leg when he fouled a ball off on it.

That leaves a hole in left field that will probably be filled by a platoon of Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke.

But that means Joc Pederson will have to have a full season as solid as the first half of last season was in center fielder. If not, Trayce Thompson could see plenty of action.

It is crucial that right fielder Yasiel Puig matures into the star everyone has been waiting to see since he debuted in 2013. He has two years left on his contract after this season, but if he doesn’t produce here he will be off-season trade bait.

The infield is solid at the corners with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and third baseman Justin Turner. Rookie Cory Seager has been handed the starting shortstop job and has seemingly recovered from a knee injury that cost him two weeks of spring training. He will be an offensive improvement over Jimmy Rollins, but his defensive ability remains in question.

He could be the Dodgers first rookie of the year since 1996.

Second base will be shared by Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick. Kendrick has been hurt most of the spring and will probably start the year on the disabled list. Both Utley and Kendrick will back up Turner at third.

Starting catcher Yasmani Grandal is another player bitten by the injury bug this year spring, but he is ably backed up by A.J. Ellis and newcomer Austin Barnes, who also play the infield.

New manager Dave Roberts appears to be popular with the players. How he handles the roster and deals with the front office could be the biggest key to the Dodgers’ chances for success this season.

We will start learning more April 4.

Expect Tiger Woods to play more often at the PGA's annual stop at the Riviera Country Club now that the Tiger Woods Foundation will be the host organization for the Hyundai Motor Open. The new sponsor and host organization were announced this week. (Courtesy photo)
Expect Tiger Woods to play more often at the PGA’s annual stop at the Riviera Country Club now that the Tiger Woods Foundation will be the host organization for the Hyundai Motor Open. The new sponsor and host organization were announced this week.
(Courtesy photo)

TIGER’S TOURNEY: The Los Angeles stop on the PGA Tour will have a new name next year.

Once simply known as the Los Angeles Open, the tournament has been called the Northern Trust Open for the last few years, but Northern Trust chose to drop their sponsorship of the event held annually at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades in favor of the FedEx Playoff Tournament in New York at the end of the season.

Hyundai Motor America will become the title sponsor of the event starting next year and the Irvine-based Tiger Woods Foundation has been announced as the host organization.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for my foundation,” Woods said. “This is the first PGA Tour event I ever played, and it means a lot to contribute to a community that has supported me and my foundation for more than 20 years. I’m committed to playing in my foundation’s events, and it will be exciting to return to Riviera.”

Woods has not played Riviera often in the past, but with his foundation serving as sponsor he will tee it up next year, if he is physically fit to play.

He has yet to play in a tournament this year while recovering from back surgery.

“Recognizing Tiger’s ongoing connection to his home state through his foundation, we saw an opportunity to correspond the transition of the tournament operation with the new long-term sponsorship by Hyundai,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said. “With Hyundai Motor America also based in the Los Angeles area, we see this is a very positive move that further strengthens the local ties of the tournament. Further, with Tiger’s personal involvement, we believe it will continue to elevate its stature on the PGA Tour.”

That’s a good thing for the PGA, Tiger and his foundation.