Corey Seager’s first test as a shortstop in 2019 came early on a back field at Camelback Ranch on Thursday morning. It was the first inning of an intrasquad game with Dodgers minor leaguers, his first action in the field since last April before his elbow-ligament replacement and hip surgeries. It was a weakly hit groundball and he knew he had no chance to make the play in time at first base. But he made the throw anyway. He wanted to finish the play. He didn’t hesitate. It was another checkpoint.
“I actually hadn’t tried the one that I did in the game,” Seager said, “so that was kind of nice to get it out of the game, too.”
That was the only ball Seager, 24, handled in three innings. He emerged unscathed and encouraged.
“It was weird,” Seager said. “You try to find your timing with the pitches and stuff like that, but, for the most part, it was a lot smoother than I expected.”
His performance concluded with a strikeout in an eight-pitch at-bat, but that was an afterthought. He estimated that it was just his ninth live plate appearance of the spring. He’s confident he’ll grow more comfortable with more repetitions. On Wednesday, he faced the live-armed Walker Buehler three times in a live batting practice session. He struck out twice and hit a line drive to the right-center field gap.
“He was throwing hard,” Seager said. “He was throwing really, really hard for a live BP. Most people don’t throw that hard in live BPs.”
That was another test, a chance to face an elite major league pitcher in a controlled setting. Seager said the next step is to play more innings in the field. The goal is to have him play in a Cactus League game before camp breaks and at shortstop on opening day.
“It was nice to move around,” Seager said. “It was. It’s been a long time. It was just nice to get on the field again.”
Left-handed reliever Tony Cingrani will be sidelined at least two weeks and will not be ready for opening day as he deals with another bout of shoulder soreness, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
Cingrani, 29, pitched in four Cactus League games this spring and didn’t allow a run, but he had been dealing with the discomfort for a stretch.
“It just hasn’t been coming out right and so you can see how he’s kind of favoring that shoulder,” Roberts said. “He’s as tough as they come and tried to pitch through it but it just wasn’t right and we just felt like we needed to take a couple steps back.”
Kershaw’s latest bullpen session
Clayton Kershaw tossed 31 pitches in a bullpen session Thursday, his second such outing since suffering a setback last month. After throwing only fastballs in the first session, Kershaw stayed away from his curveball Thursday but did not appear to hold back otherwise. Roberts said Kershaw could face hitters next week for the first time since Feb. 18.
On Wednesday, Roberts said Kershaw, 30, could begin the season on the roster and start on opening day in a limited capacity if he isn’t stretched out to his usual length. Kershaw has started for the Dodgers on opening day for eight straight seasons, a franchise record.
Verdugo to make opening day roster
Outfielder Alex Verdugo resides in an unusual space: He’s a highly regarded prospect with nothing left to prove in the minor leagues and no obvious everyday role available to him in the majors. The Dodgers’ deep outfield corps stifled Verdugo’s opportunities the last two seasons, leaving him to spend most of his time putting up big numbers with triple-A Oklahoma City.
The Dodgers’ outfield logjam hasn’t cleared completely, but the 22-year-old Verdugo will have a role in the majors this season, though a more limited one than typical for a prospect who can play all three outfield positions, boasts an elite arm and can hit both righties and lefties. On Thursday, Roberts confirmed Verdugo, barring an unforeseen development, will begin the season on the Dodgers’ opening -day roster. A.J. Pollock, Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson are the club’s other projected outfielders — with utilitymen Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor also in the mix.
“The way we use our roster, there’s going to be opportunities,” Roberts said. “His versatility in the outfield, the left-handed bat. The way he conducts an at-bat, the bat to ball, plays for me in a lot of different ways.”
Roberts welcomes MLB rule change
On Thursday, Major League Baseball announced a series of rules changes that will go into effect over the next two seasons. Among them is a three-batter minimum for pitchers, a measure created to limit pitching changes in hopes of quickening the pace of play, for the 2020 season. The rule is the most controversial of the several announced. Dave Roberts, perhaps surprisingly, is a fan.
Roberts was in his first season with the Dodgers in 2016 when they set the major-league record for most pitching changes in history with 606. Unabashedly playing the matchups has been part of the Dodgers’ identity in recent years. But Roberts said he welcomes the looming wrinkle.
“I think that’s good,” Roberts said. “It’s a challenge for players, pitchers, relief pitchers, to be able to get lefties and righties out. There’s a little strategy, obviously, in place and I think that the mindfulness of not having pitching changes for pace of play makes sense.”