By Mark Carlisle
After losing their second straight World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ impact players looked season-ready at the start of 2019 spring training. The Dodgers beat a Chicago White Sox split squad 7-6 Saturday at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix.
The Dodgers jumped out to a 7-1 lead over the White Sox, but Chicago had a late-inning surge, led mostly by non-roster invitees to close the gap to one run. However, the rally came up short as they left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Dodgers their fourth straight opening day victory over their Camelback Ranch counterparts.
White Sox manager Rick Renteria noted that spring games are more about each player’s progress than the final score.
“(I look) to see where these guys are at based on the work they’ve done,” he said. “For the pitchers, see how much they’re commanding the strike zone, for the hitters, see where they’re at in terms of their timing. Defensively, we want to see that they’re able to slow the game down and still play good defense and continue to build on that and move forward.
Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill, who threw a perfect first inning and came earned the win, noted that though the games don’t count, the work the players put in does count.
“I think everybody has an agreement, hopefully, with themselves that they’ll give 100 percent of their effort every single time that they go out there and realize that these opportunities don’t come around all the time,” Hill said. “Even though it’s spring training, you have to have to foresight to understand how fortunate we are to go out there and play and to put everything that we can out there and that’s something that even though this is considered a practice game or spring training, you know, you have to have that mindset. Just like how we practice is how we should play. That’s something that does absolutely translate over.”
Hill threw just seven pitches in his spring debut, striking out former Diamondback Jon Jay. Despite entering his 15th season, the veteran pitcher, who turns 39 next month, said he has a different approach this spring, saying he’s trying to “get into my mechanics.”
“What I mean by that is I just change up my deliveries, change up the speed of my deliveries, and that’s part of my game is being able to accelerate and decelerate the ball whether that be with a breaking ball or with a fastball,” Hill said.
Spring training is a mix of players who will play regularly during the regular season and player who will return to the minors at the end of spring. The Dodgers impact players came up big in their spring opener Saturday. All seven runs were driven in and scored by players likely to be on the regular season roster and none four pitchers from the 40-man roster who pitched — Hill, Yimi Garcia, Jaime Schultz and Josh Sborz — allowed a baserunner over four combined innings.
The White Sox impact players who appeared in the game did not fare as well. Despite the split squad, eight of the Sox’ nine starters are likely to spend some time on the major league roster this season. Those eight combined to go 3 for 17 with a double. The five top players in the order — Jay, Brandon Guyer, Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez and Yonder Alonso — each struck out.
Joc Pederson, who will at least split time in left field for the Dodgers, homered in the game, as did D.J. Peterson, a White Sox minor-league corner infielder who will hope to make his major league debut this season.
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson doubled as did four Dodgers: third baseman Justin Turner, utility man Kiké Hernandez and both catchers, Austin Barnes and Russell Martin.
Barnes will likely be the starter after Yasmani Grandal signed with the Brewers this offseason. The Dodgers brought back Martin, who played with the team from 2006 to 2010, in a trade with the Blue Jays to be the team’s second catcher.
Martin, who had the worst offensive season of his career last year, hitting .194, praised the Dodgers’ coaching staff and said Barnes looked like he took all the right steps in the offseason to improve his swing.
“If I have a bounce-back year this year, it will be directly correlated with just that,” he said, referring to the team’s coaching.
Chicago’s pitching got off to a rough start. Non-roster invitee Donn Roach, who played most of the last two seasons in Korean and Japanese leagues, started and didn’t make it out of the first inning. Roach gave up four earned runs on four hits and two walks.
Carson Fulmer, who is projected to be in the Sox’ starting rotation, closed out the first without problem but when he returned for the second, he hit a batter, walked a batter and allowed a double for two earned runs.
“I thought he was throwing more strikes, just attacking the strike zone,” Renteria said of Fulmer. “He only left a couple of pitches up. But all in all, he got through the work that he needed to get done, and hopefully he’ll continue to build on that.”
The pitching settled down after the second. The remaining seven innings were split between Jose Ruiz, Jordan Stephens, Ryan Burr and Thyago Vieira, and Stephens allowed the only run.
Former Diamondbacks All-Star outfielder A.J. Pollock, who signed with the Dodgers this offseason, did not play Saturday.
The other White Sox
The rest of the White Sox lost 6-5 to the Oakland Athletics at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa Saturday. Yoan Moncada and Seby Zavala each had two hits, including a double, and Jose Rondon, Daniel Palka also doubled.
White Sox add Santana, Tucker
The White Sox signed starting pitcher Ervin Santana and outfielder Preston Tucker to minor league contracts Saturday and invited both to spring training.
Santana, a 2008 and 2017 All-Star, was limited to five starts and an 8.03 ERA in 2018 with the Minnesota Twins. The White Sox fifth rotation spot is up in the air, and Santana, 36, would be the shoo-in if he can get healthy and return to 2017 form.
“(He’s a) nice addition,” Renteria said. “You know, we’ve got a couple of guys in camp that are going to be vying for a fifth spot. (It) gives us some flexibility. Look forward to see how he’s doing.”
Tucker is a .222 career hitter with 23 home runs in 243 games across three seasons.
MLB has added a 20-second pitch clock for spring training this year. It will be implemented without penalty to start but later in spring, the league may tell umpires to assess ball-or-strike penalties for violations.
The league is testing the clock to determine if it will use it in the regular season, as soon as this year.
Even though Hill never used even half of the 20 seconds in his short outing, he said he hates the idea of a pitch clock effecting the impact affecting the game.
“You shouldn’t allow something else besides competition to dictate the outcome of the game,” Hill said. “And I think that’s something that unfortunately we’re staring down the barely of. And hopefully everybody comes to their senses and understands that having the games dictated by a clock is not something baseball was meant to have happen.”