Pitching is the name of the game for the Dodgers
Thursday is the first day of workouts at Vero Beach, Florida, for the Dodger pitchers and catchers. The rest of the Dodgers have their first workout February 20. During the winter the Dodgers made few changes, and they focused on improving their pitching. If the Dodgers can improve upon their 2000 record of 86 and 76, they might earn their first playoff berth since 1996. The Dodgers’ success in 2001 depends on their pitching success.
The Dodgers’ starting rotation looks as it will rival all of the best rotations in baseball. Barring an injury, Kevin Brown, Chan Ho Park, and Darren Dreifort should combine for at least 50 wins. In 2000 the Dodgers could not find an effective fourth and fifth starters until September when Eric Gagne and Luke Prokopec pitched brilliantly. In December they signed free agent Andy Ashby, whose best year was in 1998 when he pitched with Kevin Brown for the San Diego Padres. Though Ashby had a difficult 2000 season, he should have a better performance in 2001, especially considering that he has pitched his best at Dodger Stadium. In January the Dodgers signed their long time ace Ramon Martinez who struggled for the last two seasons with the Boston Red Sox. The Dodger management says Martinez will compete with Gagne for the fifth spot in the rotation. However, most people believe if Martinez is healthy, he will be the Dodger fifth starter. Gagne and Prokopec, young pitchers who are waiting for a chance to break into the Dodger rotation, represent insurance policies for the Dodgers if a starter gets injured.
In 2000 the Dodgers had the best bullpen in baseball. Because they have not changed their bullpen, they expect the same in 2001. After a rough start in 2000 Jeff Shaw was one of the best closers in the game, and nobody foresees him relinquishing his status. Mike Fetters, who was a non-roster invitee last spring, was one of the main reasons for the Dodger bullpen’s success, and the Dodgers expect the same from him in 2001. Terry Adams, who did a good job before the All-Star break but struggled afterwards, should be effective in 2001 if he gets adequate rest. The ability of Matt Herges to pitch in any role will prove valuable in 2001. Although the rumors during the off season said the Dodgers wanted to trade Antonio Osuna, Osuna remains a Dodger and figures to be the mop up man. Gregg Olson sat out for most of the 2000 season with an injury to his forearm but hopes to contribute in 2001. Although the Dodger bullpen looks strong, injuries can destroy their effectiveness.
The Dodgers believe their only weakness is a lack of a left-handed reliever. Though they have Onan Masaoka and Jeff Williams as left-handed relievers, the Dodgers are not satisfied with them because they have virtually no experience in serious game situations. The Dodgers have invited Jesse Orosco, Yorkis Perez, Matt Whisenant, and Jim Morris to spring training. Orosco, 43, has had a 21-year major league career but had arm surgery last July. Most people doubt Orosco can rebound from surgery at his advanced age and after 21 years of abuse. Yorkis Perez did not pitch much for the Houston Astros in 2000 and has a 4.56 career ERA since 1991. Whisenant, 29, appeared in 24 games for the San Diego Padres in 2000 and has a lifetime ERA of 4.96. Morris was a high school baseball coach in Texas until his students convinced him to try out for the major leagues. In 1999 at 35 Morris made his major league debut for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but this spring Morris probably will be a human interest story more than a legitimate candidate for the left-handed relieving job. Although the Dodgers have invited many possible left-handed relievers to spring training, the battle for the left-handed relieving job probably will be between Masaoka and Williams.
During the off season Kevin Malone listened to the old baseball adage that good pitching will stop good hitting. The Dodgers did improve pitching.