Well March games too, but you get the point. It’s about ten days until opening day and the Dodger’s two best starting pitchers, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler have yet to throw a single inning in Cactus league play. To be fair, Walker Buehler is slated to start on Tuesday against the Indians at Camelback Ranch but this is extremely concerning.
Of all the players, it’s the pitchers especially the starters who need the entire six weeks of spring training to build arm strength and be prepared for the regular season. That’s what the exhibition season is for. With Kershaw and Buehler having thrown no innings up to this point, it’s almost impossible for either of them to be ready for opening day, or for April baseball in general for that matter. Kershaw’s streak of eight consecutive opening day starts looks to be in jeopardy. (Update) The Dodgers are finally announcing Kershaw will start the season on the injured list.
The question we have is why neither pitcher has thrown in a game this spring? It’s fair to assume, that both starters are legitimately hurt. We do know that Kershaw was reported to have early spring shoulder inflammation, but Buehler’s situation was a bit murkier. There was no evidence that Buehler was hurt at all. Although reports indicated he did not “feel right” when camps first opened. Strangely that’s what Kershaw reported as well.
Sure Kershaw had some shoulder soreness, but it’s common for many pitchers to feel sore at the beginning of spring. Most of them rest for a few days, get back on the mound and pitch through it. If Kershaw’s shoulder issue was serious, the club would have ordered an MRI. I don’t think Buehler was ever injured. Considering he’s making the start on Tuesday versus Cleveland, gives us the impression that he is healthy.
I have a working theory. The Dodgers have decided to not pitch their two best starters in order to “save” them for later in the season. On paper this makes some sense. After all, the baseball season is long. The Dodgers are trying to keep guys healthy, rested and keep the innings down on their two best arms. An Innings limit could prevent further injury, and prevent the Dodgers from losing one or both hurlers during the stretch drive. Both pitchers have had extensive histories of injuries. Kershaw has had chronic back and shoulder problems. Buehler had Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago.
I don’t like it. Here’s the problem with this strategy. It’s weak, conservative and sends the wrong message to the rest of the National League. The Dodgers, two time defending National League champions are giving off the appearance that their two best starters are not strong enough to open the season. Management is giving the message that April baseball is not important.
The Dodgers tried something like this to a lesser degree last year, and it didn’t work either. Guys were rested in April. Hot bats were benched in favor of lesser hitters. The Dodgers played meek and conservative last year with constant platoons and scheduled rest and it nearly sank their season. The club started out 16-26 and appeared like they were headed for disaster.
Thankfully that didn’t happen. Some may point out that the strategy worked because the Dodgers not only won the National League West, but captured their second consecutive pennant and World Series appearance. Just because the Dodgers barely won the division by the skin of their teeth and then made it to the World Series doesn’t mean the strategy was a good one.
My opinion has always been that no matter what time of season you always put your best players on the field. You put your best lineup out every single day. That’s how you win more than you lose. Of course guys need rest and there will be injuries throughout the season. But April games count just as much as August, or September games. If the Dodgers had gotten off to just a respectable start last season then there would have been no need for a game 163. They would have won the division easily. Let’s see if the Dodgers take April (and March) baseball seriously this time around, or if they will punt again.