What we learned Down Under

March, 23, 2014
Mar 23
4:50
PM PT
SYDNEY -- Right about the time the Dodgers were landing in Los Angeles from their 13-hour flight, workers at the Sydney Cricket Ground were tearing up the infield and removing the temporary outfield walls. There's a rugby match to be played there in two weeks.

The Australia portion of the Dodgers' season is over. It was, on pretty much every level, a smashing success. People came from all over the region -- one cab driver told me he drove several baseball fans from New Zealand who came for the games -- and the fans seemed to be in a festive mood. Who knows, the Dodgers may have made a few new fans or might have inspired a young boy to pick up baseball who eventually becomes a Dodger.

[+] EnlargeDodgers
Matt King/Getty ImagesThe Dodgers learned plenty during their time in Australia, especially after playing their two games at Sydney Cricket Ground.
Even the players who dreaded the extra travel and worried about the disruption to the season seemed to enjoy themselves. The Dodgers took off the tourist gear and put on their uniforms at the appropriate time, sweeping two games from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Diamondbacks (0-2) sounded happier to be there when they arrived. The Dodgers (2-0) sounded happier by the end.

When Dodgers manager Don Mattingly came into the interview room after Sunday's 7-5 win, he was still a little grumpy after watching his young relievers walk seven batters in the final four innings and watching Yasiel Puig make two outs on the bases and, once again, complain of an injury after a strikeout. Eventually, Mattingly composed himself.

"It was a great experience," Mattingly said. "I know I come in here with the game on my head, but it's been a great experience to be able to come here and be able to see the city, to be able to play in this atmosphere."

You can't make sweeping generalizations about two games of a season, but you can draw a hazy conclusion or two:

  • The starting pitching, at least at the top, is strong. The Diamondbacks took a blow just before they came to Australia when they learned young lefty Patrick Corbin had an elbow injury. But remember, the Dodgers were without Zack Greinke, who stayed behind in Arizona after his spring was delayed by a sore calf. Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu got the Dodgers off to a roaring start in both games, giving up one run in 11 ⅔ innings combined. "When your pitching's this good, you really don't want to allow teams to get back in games," Mattingly sad.

  • Which brings us to the biggest worry, once again: infield defense. Hanley Ramirez made a poor decision trying to step on second base to start a double play when he could have shoveled to Dee Gordon at least to get an out at second. Everybody was safe. Gordon dropped a liner right in his glove. Stopping balls hit up the middle is crucial and might become a long-term worry. Then again, the games were played on a lightning-fast infield, so perhaps we should withhold judgment.

  • Second base could be fine. Gordon looked like a catalyst in Sunday's game, sparking almost all of the Dodgers' scoring action. "I'll do what I can to be the starting second baseman and show they can trust me to be the guy every day," Gordon said afterward. Justin Turner looks like a solid right-handed half of a Gordon-Turner platoon. The Dodgers can be patient and allow Alex Guerrero to develop at Triple-A as long as the platoon works. Good early signs.

  • The bullpen should be good. Relief pitching was awful Sunday. The first five relievers in the game for the Dodgers gave up seven walks among them. Then again, some of those guys won't even be on the team in a week, as the Dodgers scramble to find roster spots for Greinke, Dan Haren, Brandon League and Carl Crawford. When the three top relievers, Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson and Chris Perez, pitched in Saturday's game, it was lights-out. Jansen did allow a Mark Trumbo home run Sunday but cut him some slack. It was a non-save situation.

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

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.300 13 59 71
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 18
RBIA. Gonzalez 90
RD. Gordon 73
OPSY. Puig .881
WC. Kershaw 16
ERAC. Kershaw 1.73
SOC. Kershaw 194