LOS ANGELES – The usual pre-game fizz. The usual mini-dramas. The usual easy and uneasy mirth. It’s been hours since the last loss. No reason carting that around anymore.
It’s a Wednesday afternoon, turning to evening, at Dodger Stadium.
There’s a birthday party, five young boys on the field with a dad, Matt Kemp asking for some magic, the boys laying their hands on the barrel of his bat.
“There better be some home runs in there,” he scolds.
“Take it easy,” their new friend cries. “Happy birthday!”
(A couple hours later, he homers, because that’s how baseball works sometimes, weird and unexplainable and laced with ju-ju, like Matt Kemp being the Los Angeles Dodgers’ best player. In 2018.)
Justin Turner, up next, juts his chin on request, and five small hands have a tug at his famous red beard.
Across the field, Rhys Hoskins smiles and tries not to smile on the business end of a fan’s selfie. On Monday night he’d fouled a ball into his face, on Tuesday night he’d lashed a pinch double, on Wednesday he’d learned his jaw was broken after all.
“Coulda been worse,” Hoskins had said Tuesday.
“Coulda been worse,” he says again Wednesday.
Rhys Hoskins is an optimist.
The Dodgers, at this point, killing time until their next winning streak, the assumption being there will be one. And soon after that a .500 record, and then a run toward the top of a mediocre division, all the stuff required after two months of losing baseball.
So the stadium sits spotted with fans not really sure what they’re watching, only that they’ve been watching a lot of it. This hasn’t looked like a World Series team. It hasn’t looked like a division winner. It hasn’t looked like a team that should’ve basically sat out the winter. But, well, here it is, welcoming on Wednesday another starting pitcher into its clubhouse, that being 22-year-old Dominican Dennis Anfernee Santana, named by his father after Dennis Rodman and Anfernee Hardaway because he was and is a basketball fan, which you’ve probably gathered.
And, also, on Wednesday waiting on Clayton Kershaw, the ace who hasn’t thrown a pitch in nearly a month, who’s been instead recovering from biceps tendinitis, who’s been touching up his mechanics and body parts in between, and who is scheduled to pitch again Thursday afternoon against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Asked in passing how he’s doing, Kershaw says, “I’ll find out tomorrow, hopefully,” and on his way off the disabled list he’ll basically brush past Kenta Maeda, who came out of Tuesday night’s start because of a sore hip. What’s interesting is the Dodgers will have had 80 percent of their opening week’s starting pitchers on the disabled list for most or parts of May (all but Alex Wood) and the rotation was better than it was in April, by an ERA’s half-run. What’s not interesting is a lot of the baseball remains the same, though they’ve been perkier lately. This, coupled with whatever has happened in Arizona, means nobody is likely to go anywhere while the Dodgers sort themselves out, which doesn’t mean the Dodgers are bound to win the thing. But they might.
This is probably where Kershaw comes in, with two-thirds of the season still out there, and this being the third consecutive season in which he’s missed starts because of injury. The Dodgers won 195 games in the prior two seasons anyway. This season, however, would appear to be more fragile. The more Kershaw the better, especially so if the Dodgers have any intention of tidying up that last little piece of October they’d left undone. First things first, Kershaw against the Phillies, Kershaw with what manager Dave Roberts describes as a subtly altered set of mechanics, nothing you’d notice probably if you weren’t Kershaw or pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.
“There’s a new normal for his body,” Roberts explains, which means the injuries caused some mechanical modifications, or mechanical adjustments caused some ailments, the specifics of which are a bit hazy and probably over our heads anyway.
“There’s a physical constitution, a composition, so that right there blends into the pitching mechanics,” Roberts says. “He’s so in tune with his body, unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
“I think it was more, just trying to figure out a way to keep him strong and healthy. … He feels strong.”
“I’m not a kinesiologist,” Roberts points out, “so I can’t speak to all that.”
So, yeah, just a Wednesday turning soon into a Thursday, waiting on Clayton Kershaw, waiting on a season to turn, winning a ballgame against the Phillies, maybe looking back over two hollow months and sharing the same sober notion, the same heartening notion.
“Coulda been worse.”
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