Chicago White Sox catcher Geovany Soto and Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood nearly collide at first base during a spring training game in February. (Shotgun Spratling)
Clayton Kershaw started at 1 p.m., in the stadium at Camelback Ranch, with 10,000 fans in the stands.
Alex Wood started at 11 a.m., on a practice field, with no fans in the five rows of aluminum bleachers behind home plate.
Wood threw a simulated game, to hitters within a batting cage, with his manager and pitching coach looking on. At the same time, and not entirely related to Wood’s appearance, staffers from the Dodgers’ research, development and analytics units collected data on a laptop behind the cage and gathered video on the batters from a camera just outside the cage.
That Wood pitched Tuesday in a data lab environment rather than a stadium environment does not mean he is out of contention for the starting rotation. There are too many candidates, the Dodgers say, and too few innings in the stadium games. Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched on a practice field over the weekend and Kenta Maeda is scheduled to do so Wednesday.
Wood is scheduled to make his next two appearances in Cactus League games. The Dodgers appear to have Kershaw, Maeda and Rich Hill locked into their rotation, with Wood, Ryu, Julio Urias, Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy the top contenders for the final two spots.
“I think I should be in the rotation,” Wood said. “But we’ve got seven or eight guys that can all be quality big league starters.
“I think they’re playing a waiting game, to see if things take care of themselves before they have to make any kind of decision.”
Kazmir ($16 million), McCarthy ($10 million) and Ryu ($7 million) all will make significantly more than Wood ($2.8 million) this season.
“In other places, that would have a lot more effect than it does here,” he said. “They’re going to go with who gives them the best chance to win. I feel fortunate to be here. In Atlanta and other places, the guys with the big contracts are usually the ones that are pretty locked in, no matter what.”
When the Dodgers acquired Wood at the 2015 trade deadline, President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman said the team had added a sorely needed young starting pitcher. Friedman said Tuesday that his belief in Wood has not wavered.
“He is a good major league starting pitcher,” Friedman said. “He is a great competitor and fits in really well within the fabric of our clubhouse.
“Obviously we have a number of really talented starters. We’re not sure exactly how things will play out, but we have a lot of confidence in him and feel very strongly he is going to help us win a lot of games this year.”
Wood could make the team as a reliever; Friedman said he expects him “to be one of the 12 or 13 helping us win games for sure.”
Wood, 26, said he feels as confident today as he ever has in his career, with improved mechanics and velocity this spring. The Dodgers have not broached the topic of working in relief with him this spring, but for now he is where he wants to be.
“I don’t think there’s ever a day I don’t feel blessed to be a part of a big league team,” he said, “especially one that’s going to be as good as this one.”
Kershaw could complete a Cactus League no-hitter in his next start Sunday. He pitched three hitless innings Tuesday and has pitched six hitless innings this spring, facing the minimum 18 batters.
“If you’re not giving up hits, that’s a good thing,” Kershaw said. “Even though it doesn’t matter, I’ll take it.”
Spring training is seven weeks this year because of the World Baseball Classic, six weeks in other years, so long only so starting pitchers can slowly build up their innings.
“The position players will probably get sick of this pretty quick,” Kershaw said. “They don’t need that many at-bats. Same with the relievers. They don’t need that many innings. Everybody is here for us, and we appreciate it.”
So why not have starting pitchers throw at home as camp nears, so they could be ready to pitch two or three innings when they arrive and teams can shave two weeks off spring training?
“I think there’s a lot of things at stake, especially financially, that won’t let that happen,” he said. “So there’s no point in even thinking about it.”
Shortstop Corey Seager said he has not yet resumed baseball activities, four days since he last played and his back tightened up. Over the last three days, Manager Dave Roberts has said Seager could return Tuesday, then said Friday, and then said Saturday or Sunday. The Dodgers still do not consider the injury serious and say the long spring affords them the opportunity to be cautious. … An MRI examination Tuesday revealed no structural damage on Kazmir’s left side. Kazmir left Monday’s game because of tightness in his left hip. Kazmir said he had no pain Tuesday and was told he could resume workouts; Roberts wants to see him throw before deciding when he might start again.
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