Leaving spring training, a fair number of observers wondered whether their early crowd on the disabled list would leave the Dodgers in a wee spot of trouble to open 2016 in earnest. Not to mention how the Dodgers lost their last five spring exhibitions, including an embarrassing Freeway Series sweep in which the Angels outscored them 15-3.
Take my advice and don’t ask the Padres what they think, after opening the season against the Dodgers being shut out twice and destroyed once.
The Padres are still looking for their first run of 2016. This is three days after the season’s first run batted in was produced by a Pirate pitcher. This is also after the Dodgers abused them for eighteen runs in two games, with fifteen of them coming on Opening Day.
Maybe that Padre fan throwing peanuts at a crowd of Dodger fans who’d made the trip south to Petco Park Monday should have saved them for the elephants at the not-too-far-away zoo. The Dodgers were in the middle of a five-run sixth and their migrating fans had begun chanting “Let’s go, Dodgers!” Throw ‘em some peanuts, they crack your back.
The way the talk went as spring training wrapped you’d have thought the Dodgers were going to have to field a team of Red Cross volunteers and maybe two ambulance corps to launch 2016. Then Clayton Kershaw went to work Monday afternoon. So did the Dodgers’ bats.
Kershaw was Kershaw and then some. He struck out nine in seven innings’ work, a performance only to be equaled by the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard (nine K in six) the following day. And he showed something he’s rarely used in the previous seasons of his so-far stellar career: a changeup he learned from former Dodger changeup virtuoso Eric Gagne.
Only who the hell needed that? And who the hell needed Kershaw and his five straight Opening Day wins? Not when:
* Chase Utley and Corey Seager open against the Padres’ Tyson Ross with back-to-back first inning doubles.
* Adrian Gonzalez smacks Seager home with a single up the pipe, then swatted home Justin Turner two innings later.
* Yasiel Puig takes one for the team with one out in the sixth, Carl Crawford moves him over beating out a grounder to third, Joc Pederson drives in Puig with a double to right, A.J. Ellis singles home both Crawford and Pederson, Kershaw singles Ellis to second to open up the Padres’ bullpen, ex-Dodger Matt Kemp mishandles and mis-throws Utley’s single, sending home Ellis and sending Kershaw to third, and Seager sends home Kershaw with a sacrifice fly.
* An RBI double (Trayce Thompson) and a two-run single (Utley) hang up three more in the seventh.
* The merry go round stays round in the eighth: Gonzalez, an RBI single (scoring Turner, who’d opened with a double); Puig, a long triple to score Gonzalez before coming home himself on a throwing error; a walk and a double later, Thompson comes home on a ground out to shortstop.
* Even allowing Petco’s pitcher friendly dimensions, you marveled that the Dodgers hung fifteen runs on the Padres without one ball clearing a fence.
* To find any Opening Day blowout anywhere near as nasty as the beatdown the Dodgers laid on the Padres, you have to repair to 1911, when the Pirates bludgeoned the Reds, 14-0.
“You can’t relax because that’s when you start giving up hits,” Kershaw said about being the beneficiary of the Dodger demolition. “But when you have guys score for you, you don’t have to be as perfect and you can just go out there and attack the strike zone.”
Easy for him to say.
But the Padres probably had a sliver of hope after shaking off the Opening Day smothering. Hadn’t Scott Kazmir, the scheduled Dodger starter for Tuesday, had a spring shaky enough to have the scouts wondering whether the velocity drop was going to be a permanent thing?
So much for that hope. Kazmir—erstwhile Astro, Athletic, Indian, Angel, Ray, and Met first-round draft pick (does anyone remember the uproar when the Mets swapped him to the Rays to get—wait for it!—Victor Zambrano?)—had plenty enough velocity to dispatch eighteen of nineteen batters with just 75 pitches, his lone blemish an infield hit in the second inning.
New Dodger manager Dave Roberts credited Kazmir’s read of the Padres going in. “You just have to look at his track record,” Roberts said. “A lot was made of his spring, but he knew what it took to get ready for a major league season. Today, the fastball, the cutter, and he threw some great changeups. He really executed the scouting report.”
The Dodger hitters executed just what they needed behind Kazmir, too. They got a little help from Padres center fielder Jon Jay, formerly a fine Cardinal center fielder, when Jay misread Puig’s high liner in the fourth, off Padres starter James Shields, and allowed it to become a two-run triple—the second straight day Puig has hit for three. Crawford rewarded him Tuesday with a single shot through the hole at shortstop to send him home.
“When he gets on base and conducts those at-bats for us in the middle of the order,” said Roberts of Puig, “good things are going to happen.”
The good things have been happening to open for the Dodgers whom everyone feared would enter the season in trouble enough thanks to the disabled list and that shaky last week of spring. Not that it’s going to get simpler.
After wrapping up against the Padres Wednesday (new Dodger import Kenta Maeda faces San Diego’s Andrew Cashner), the Giants await the Dodgers in San Francisco. Including a date between Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner come Saturday. Those guys aren’t exactly prone to being shut out, blown out, or both.