What matters in Dodgers' spring so far?

February, 18, 2013
2/18/13
11:21
AM PT
Spring training news, thus far, has been scant, which is probably a good thing. Some of the more interesting developments in Arizona, such as Sandy Koufax's re-embrace of the organization, might have little or no impact on how many games the Dodgers win this summer.

What are starting to emerge, though hazily, are a few storylines that could have a big impact on the coming months. Let's explore a few:

Healing powers. The Dodgers are probably in better physical shape than most people thought. The leader in this category is pitcher Chad Billingsley, who -- just a few months ago -- figured to miss a season, at least, recovering from elbow surgery. Now, he might be good to go.

Kind of amazing.

"There hasn't been any mention in any of the medical reports or anything else. His name's not on a list, it's not on anything," manager Don Mattingly told reporters in Arizona. "He's just like one of the guys getting ready."

If the Dodgers are still saying such things in a month, look for them to accelerate their efforts to trade Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang or Ted Lilly.

Things are still uncertain with Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, but the early signs are far from ominous. Mattingly spoke highly of both players' swings in early batting practice. Mattingly said Monday that both outfielders will miss at least the first week of spring training games, but that registers about a 0.01 on the Richter scale. Hitters need about 10 games -- not 30 -- to get ready.

Both guys figure to spend a lot of time at designated hitter once they're eased into spring competition. We'll have more answers starting then. Will Kemp feel a twinge every time he swings at an outside breaking ball and misses? Can pitchers easily jam Crawford, knowing he has a sore elbow?

These things will take time, but the early answers have been promising. If Crawford is healthier than he was the past two seasons and Kemp is back to being Kemp, the Dodgers figure to score enough runs to win games.

Clayton's No. 1. In the old days, teams only gave record contracts to players they hoped would radically change the direction of the franchise. That was before hyperinflation hit free agency and before the Dodgers' new owners arrived.

The Dodgers made Zack Greinke the richest right-handed pitcher in baseball last December, but on this team, he'll be the No. 2 starter. Mattingly confirmed what everyone already knew, that Clayton Kershaw will -- barring some unforeseen event -- be on the Dodger Stadium mound at about 1 p.m. on April 1 to pitch the season opener against the San Francisco Giants.

No biggie. After a week, rotations tend to scramble, and Kershaw won't necessarily match up against other teams' aces. But what it tells us is that the Dodgers have a very, very powerful tandem leading their rotation.

Group greeting. It barely rated a mention in most media outlets' coverage from Saturday, but for the first time, the Dodgers' full squad got together for a team meeting. Mattingly didn't share many details about what he shared with his guys, which is normal. If teams wanted the media to know what they were saying, they would invite them -- and, by extension, you -- into the room.

So, what did he say he said?

"Big expectations -- you guys haven't heard?" according to the Orange County Register.

And that's how this experiment in molding a team from a lot of talented parts will begin, with a wise crack. Seems as good as any other way.

And, finally …

The air up there. The Dodgers will use a humidor at Triple-A Albuquerque to offset the thin, dry air. Come to think of it, I'm not sure this development will have a massive impact on the 2013 Dodgers season, but it should help the organization evaluate young players more realistically. Plus, it's just kind of interesting, isn't it?

Yeah, it's been a bit slow. And, if we're still saying that on March 30, the Dodgers will feel like they're in pretty good shape.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
16 1.73 194 161
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .301
HRA. Gonzalez 18
RBIA. Gonzalez 90
RD. Gordon 73
OPSY. Puig .882
ERAC. Kershaw 1.73
SOC. Kershaw 194