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Dodgers Spring Training Update

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By David Moran/Special to LAist

The old narrative about the nature of spring training and the beginning of baseball season goes like this: it’s a whole new year! Every team is 0-0! Anything could happen! Maybe this is the season that Player X lays off the high fastball, that Player Y locates his curve, that Player Z learns to move to his left and smother that weak grounder in the hole - the season that it just all comes together! So-and-so is in the best shape of his life! Hope springs eternal!

Of course, it doesn’t. And hope of the spring training variety is the most fragile kind. This kind dents with every bad outing by a pitcher, cracks with every sprained knee and torn tendon, and shatters when we wake up from our winter hibernation from our teams and realize: hey, this guy will just never stop hacking at that chin-level cheese.

Spring training has had a little of each of these buzzkills for the Dodgers, but there is still perhaps some room for a tentative sort of optimism.

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The biggest news to emerge so far is the apparent hit to the club’s starting pitching depth. Vincente Padilla - excuse me, 2010 Opening Day Starter Vincente Padilla - re-aggravated a pinched nerve in his arm on February 19 and has since undergone surgery. Though he should be back sometime in the first half of the season, the exact timetable is unclear, and losing the extra starter could prove to be especially harmful if another member of the rotation gets injured down the line.

Did I say if? Starting pitcher Jon Garland strained his oblique on March 9th, and will start the season on the DL. He’ll miss even less time than Padilla (they’re estimating only a regular season start or two) but the injury will put rotation-fillers John Ely and Tim Redding to the test.

The upside is that both Ely and Redding have pitched well so far this spring; neither have allowed a run yet, with Ely having struck out seven, walked none, and allowed a mere two hits in six innings of work. The rest of the staff has very looked sharp as well. Clayton Kershaw hasn’t allowed an earned run yet through 11.1 innings of work while striking out nine. Ramon Troncoso and Blake Hawksworth haven’t walked a batter yet at all.

Of course, this is only spring training. It’s foolhardy to read too much into players’ statistics. Sure, that’s another way that the budding hope of the season is muffled, but it’s also a way to cope with the struggles of star players. To wit, take these spring training batting averages: Andre Ethier, .200; Rafael Furcal, .158; Juan Uribe, .143; Dioner Navarro, .133; Casey Blake, .077. I won’t even dive into Jonathan Broxton’s efforts so far (15.43 ERA, 0 K). These are the numbers that you look at and say, “Oh, it’s only spring training.”

On the other hand, when you look at the accomplishments of 23-year-old minor leaguer Jerry Sands (7-15, 2 HR, 4 BB), it’s more fun to say, “Look, ma! A rising star!” Sands has impressed so much that his name is being inserted into the perpetual “Who’s In Left?” discussions. Still, it’s on the far side of unlikely that “the Sands Sheriff” will see much of the majors, despite the fact that the Gibbons-Gwynn-Kapler-Paul-Thames monster has mustered a mere .213 batting average this spring. It would probably take an injury (or two) for Sands to any action before the summer.

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And on the whole the Dodgers have avoided injuries so far. Aside from Padilla and Garland, there have really only been a few bumps and bruises: Marcus Thames had a sore heel, James Loney missed a few games with a swollen knee - the usual aches and pains that come with trying to get the rust out.

Ultimately, that sort of cobweb-clearing refamiliarization with the game is the whole point of the spring session, both for us and for the players. We learn the names of a few prospects, try to invent ways that our team could be better. We remember what it’s like to hope that our players play as well as we want them to, and remember how it feels when they don’t. We wait for the real season to begin, when wins and losses mean something and we become fans again, pain and all.