Smell that green grass, sweet crack of the bat. Man, it's good to be back.
The baseball season began in the early morning hours half a world away when the Dodgers and Diamondbacks met in Australia on March 22, but Sunday's Opening Night contest between the Padres and the aforementioned Dodgers signified the real start of the season for many fans. And, as expected, the heroes of the season opener were...Seth Smith and Chris Denorfia?
In case anyone needed a refresher course on the fact that you can't predict baseball, Smith lifted a pinch-hit home run off Dodgers reliever Brian Wilson -- one of the game's most reliable setup men in 2013 -- and Denorfia delivered a game-winning two-run single off Wilson three batters later to give the Padres a 3-1 lead. Closer Huston Street shut the door on the Dodgers in the ninth inning to give the Padres a season-opening win by the same score.
In a game decided by the bullpens, it was the two starters who deserve the most attention. Andrew Cashner showed why there was plenty of hype around him heading into the season, as the big right-hander held the Dodgers to one run over his six innings of work. Cashner allowed just four hits and two walks while striking out five in the outing. Cashner's game plays well in spacious Petco Park, and though he didn't get the win Sunday he'll be in position to win plenty more this year.
But the bigger story may have been the pitcher on the losing team. After holding the Diamondbacks scoreless over five innings in Australia, Ryu was in position to be 2-0 before the calendar turned to April. The left-hander limited the Padres to three hits and three walks over seven scoreless innings before being removed. Ryu also struck out seven Padres, giving him a 0.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and 12/4 K/BB ratio over 12 innings to begin the year. Unfortunately he didn't get the win, but the 27-year-old appears poised to show his stellar rookie campaign last season was only the beginning.
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Kershaw To The DL
Ryu's early-season performance may be even more important given the situation surrounding the Dodgers' ace, Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers placed Kershaw on the 15-day disabled list Saturday as a result of upper back inflammation that forced him to miss Sunday's opener. Kershaw felt the tightness in his upper back near his pitching shoulder during a workout Tuesday, and renewed discomfort during a throwing session Saturday forced the team to make the move.
The Dodgers are admittedly exercising caution with their Cy Young Award winner, and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said the team made the decision so Kershaw didn't have to.
"We're going to protect him from him," Mattingly told the Los Angeles Times.
Kershaw has been extremely durable in his short career, but the southpaw did pitch 259 innings last season between the regular season and the postseason. The Dodgers are cognizant of his increased workload, so the move to sideline him may be equal parts cautionary and precautionary. With the ability to backdate the move, the Dodgers will have Kershaw available as early as April 8, meaning he could just miss the first week of the season.
Part of being cautious, though, is not putting pressure on their $215 million man to be ready by a certain time, so the Dodgers have yet to put a timetable on his return.
Sunday Night Baseball kicked off the (domestic) season, but Monday's slate of games features more intriguing pitching storylines and big-time matchups.
One of the day's first games involves arguably the best matchup of aces of the Opening Day docket. In Detroit, James Shields kicks off his walk year against Justin Verlander, who's looking to prove his subpar 2013 season was a fluke. Verlander flashed his former Cy Young form in spring, posting a 0.65 WHIP and 17/5 K/BB ratio while not allowing a run over 20 innings in Cactus League play. Shields wasn't too shabby, either, posting a 0.89 WHIP and 26/2 K/BB ratio in six starts.
Two more pitchers looking to carry over hot springs will start for the Indians and Nationals. Justin Masterson, another pitcher playing for a contract this year, will start against the A's after registering a 1.09 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 25 strikeouts over 24 2/3 innings in spring. Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals' ace, allowed just two runs over 19 2/3 Grapefruit League innings and will try to continue that success against the Mets.
Two award-winning pitchers in 2013, the Marlins' Jose Fernandez and the Pirates' Francisco Liriano, are aiming to prove their surprising seasons were the real deal. Fernandez, the National League Rookie of the Year and third-place finisher in NL Cy Young voting, takes on the Rockies in Miami. The 2013 National League Comeback Player of the Year, Liriano will toe the slab in the Pirates' home opener against the Cubs.
Other starts of interest include David Price's potential last Opening Day start as a member of the Rays; Ricky Nolasco's first Opening Day start as a member of the Twins after signing a four-year, $49 million deal this offseason; and Tanner Scheppers' first start -- let alone his first Opening Day start -- for the Rangers. It should be a fun day. Enjoy the action.
National League Quick Hits: The Nationals' big acquisition this winter, Doug Fister, will also be sidelined for the start of the season. Fister was placed on the 15-day disabled list due to a lat strain. The right-hander could miss up to a month with the injury ... Jean Segura (shoulder) will be in the Brewers' lineup on Opening Day. A sore right shoulder threatened to keep him out of the lineup, but he was cleared for action after a throwing session Sunday ... Jimmy Rollins is expected to be in the lineup for Opening Day after the birth of his baby Sunday. Rollins has a lot to prove after a subpar spring that included a brief benching from Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg ... Devin Mesoraco landed on the disabled list with a left oblique strain. The catcher has been swinging a bat in recent days, so he shouldn't need much time on the shelf before returning ... among those also hitting the DL -- many as expected -- in recent days were Mike Minor, Jhoulys Chacin, Josh Johnson and Mat Latos.
American League Quick Hits: The Angels locked up the game's premier young talent over the weekend, signing Mike Trout to a six-year, $144.5 million contract extension on Saturday. The deal buys out all his arbitration years and three years of free agency ... The Dodgers weren't the only team to DL their ace -- the Rangers placed Yu Darvish on the disabled list with a neck injury. Darvish has been throwing and, assuming all continues to go well, he should only miss one start ... The Orioles made a similar move with Manny Machado as he continues to work his way back from knee surgery. He should be back with the team by the end of April ... The Blue Jays placed Casey Janssen on the disabled list due to an abdominal/lower back strain. Sergio Santos will inherit save opportunities in Janssen's absence, however long it may be ... Omar Infante, on the other hand, won't require a stint on the DL. The second baseman was questionable with an elbow injury, but after staying behind in Arizona to get in some extra work he's ready to go for Monday's opener ... The news was less promising for fellow second baseman Gordon Beckham, who hit the disabled list with a strained left oblique. Beckham feels he's closer than the team does, but it's still unclear how long the DL stay may last.