Ends of eras: Dodgers, D-backs open year sans Kershaw, Goldy
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Dodger Stadium mound just won’t look right on opening day without Clayton Kershaw standing on it.
First base will also look pretty weird for the Arizona Diamondbacks without Paul Goldschmidt on the bag.
For the first time since 2010, Kershaw won’t be the Dodgers‘ opening day starter when they face the Diamondbacks on Thursday.
And for the first time since 2011, Goldschmidt won’t be Arizona’s first baseman when a new season begins.
Shoulder inflammation is sidelining Kershaw for at least a couple of weeks, sending the two-time defending NL champions into their quest for a third straight World Series trip without the superstar lefty who has been the cornerstone of their rotation for this entire decade.
Kershaw’s streak of eight straight opening day starts was the longest in the history of a franchise established in 1883. He has won five of those starts, also a Dodgers record, and has posted a sparkling 1.05 ERA on opening days.
For a little perspective, the Dodgers’ last opening day starter not named Kershaw was Vicente Padilla, who has been out of the majors for nearly seven years.
That’s an awfully daunting legacy facing Hyun-Jin Ryu, who takes the mound for the Dodgers against the Diamondbacks. But the South Korean left-hander is looking forward to the honor against former Dodgers star Zack Greinke and the Diamondbacks.
“It’s definitely special,” Ryu said through a translator after the announcement. “I wasn’t thinking about it, nor was it my priority.”
Another celebratory opening day in Chavez Ravine matches two NL West rivals with playoff aspirations.
While Los Angeles is a solid favorite to extend its streak of six consecutive division titles, the Diamondbacks have plenty of uncertainty behind the 35-year-old Greinke, who will make his third opening day start in his four years with Arizona.
Although the Diamondbacks still have a solid talent base and promising prospects, they’re establishing a new identity this summer after the offseason departures of Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin. Goldschmidt was traded to St. Louis before he could hit free agency, leaving the D-backs without their most popular player and a six-time All-Star.
Arizona’s transition wasn’t helped Monday when Steven Souza Jr., Arizona’s probable cleanup hitter, stepped awkwardly on home plate and badly injured his left knee, sending him into season-ending surgery.
“A really unfortunate situation for us and for him, but we’re going to be behind him,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “Moving forward, we’ve been built for this. We have some depth. We have a situation where some guys are going to get some opportunities to step in and get a number of at-bats and help us win baseball games.”
The Diamondbacks also will see a familiar face in the home dugout: Outfielder A.J. Pollock signed with the Dodgers in January after seven big league seasons with Arizona, which drafted him in 2009.
Los Angeles fans might take a while to warm up to the former divisional foe, particularly since Pollock arrived during the same offseason as the departure of Yasiel Puig, likely the Dodgers’ most popular player among the faithful.
The game also should mark the official return of Corey Seager, who is back from two major surgeries and determined to resume his once-ascendant career.
The Dodgers shortstop was the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in his first two big league seasons, but he played in just 26 games last season before he sprained a ligament in his right arm and had Tommy John surgery. He then underwent arthroscopic hip surgery last August, and he missed the entirety of the Dodgers’ second World Series run.
Other than a few judicious additions, the Dodgers have largely the same roster that made two straight World Series, only to lose twice on its home field. The Dodgers’ depth and experience should provide the foundation for another strong season — particularly once Kershaw and injured Rich Hill return to their rotation.
“We feel good about where we’re at,” Justin Turner said. “Everybody who’s healthy is feeling really good, and our pitchers are all trending up.”