New-look Dodgers provide plenty of optimism in season-opening victory

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 30: Los Angeles Dodgers' Will Smith celebrates with the dugout.
Dodgers catcher Will Smith celebrates in the dugout after driving in a run on a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning of an 8-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium. Smith drove in four runs in the season-opening win. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

When Dodgers players walked into their home clubhouse on Thursday afternoon, they each found a bottle of wine waiting in their locker, an aged 2020 cabernet sauvignon from Caymus Vineyards in Napa Valley.

The gifts were courtesy of Jason Heyward, the 13-year veteran entering his first season in the Dodgers outfield.

They were more than a simple gesture of goodwill, too, serving instead as a subtle reminder for a transitioning Dodgers squad shrouded in uncertainty at the start of a new season.

“To make wine, you start off knowing it’s gonna take time,” Heyward explained, drawing a parallel to this year’s Dodgers campaign.

“This group, we understand it takes time to get where we want to go,” Heyward continued. “There’s a lot of grind in that process. But at the end of the day, there is positivity at the end.”

Indeed, on the opening night of the 2023 season, optimism reigned at Chavez Ravine.

Not only did the Dodgers blow past the Arizona Diamondbacks in a thorough 8-2 victory, but they did so by displaying the best version of their new-look team.

“I hope it’s a sign of things to come,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It was a really well-executed game plan.”

The new staff ace, Julio Urías, shined in his first career opening day start, overcoming two quick runs to pitch six strong innings in front of an adoring sell-out crowd.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 30: Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urias (7) delivers a pitch.
Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urías delivers during the second inning Thursday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The new No. 3 hitter, catcher Will Smith, went three for four and drove four runs, including the Dodgers’ first three of the game to erase their early deficit.

Two of the team’s veteran offseason additions, J.D. Martinez and David Peralta, helped the Dodgers pull away with RBI knocks in the fifth inning.

Then in the sixth, Miguel Vargas and James Outman — who became the first pair of rookies to start in the Dodgers opening day lineup since 1985 — put the contest out of reach, with Vargas drawing a walk before Outman smashed a two-run home run to left.

It was the kind of dominance the Dodgers believed they could be capable of this season; being led by its biggest stars at the top of the order, bolstered by a mix of veteran bats and young contributors at the bottom of the lineup, and defined most of all by a continued ability to produce on the mound.

And while their ability to repeat that blueprint over the grind of a full season — in which the club’s depth and cohesion will be tested against the background of a seemingly improved field of National League contenders — remains a looming question, they didn’t have to wait long to start finding some potential answers.

“That’s a good start,” Roberts said. “It just allows them to kind of catch a breath.”

The Dodgers responded to some early speed bumps on Thursday.

Down 2-0 entering the third, Smith knotted the score with a two-run single, going the other way on a two-strike fastball from Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen for a line drive to right.

Two innings later, the 28-year-old catcher delivered with two strikes again, dropping an RBI single into shallow right that put the Dodgers in front for the first time.

“He really was a star,” Roberts said. “As far as seeing pitches, getting two-strike hits, two-out RBIs, and just having good at-bats. Everyone else sort of fell in with that.”

Indeed, after Smith’s go-ahead hit in the fifth, Martinez and Peralta strung together consecutive RBI singles to make it 5-2.

Then, Outman provided the exclamation point an inning later, lining a two-run blast to left in his Dodger Stadium debut.

“It was awesome,” said Outman, who appeared in only four road games in his MLB debut last year. “It was a dream come true.”

Urías went on a tear of his own as the night went on, retiring 13 of his final 15 batters while racking up six strikeouts and showing off a new pitch, a cutter.

The defense also aided the left-hander’s cause. Twice, Urías got an inning-ending double-play from his infield.

In the sixth, Mookie Betts threw out a runner at second after adjusting to a line drive that ricocheted off the corner of the wall in foul ground.

For one night, it was everything the Dodgers were hoping to see — starting a season that will feature plenty of questions, and might require renewed faith and patience, with a staunch reminder of the talent and potential that remains in the building.

“We’ve got a great team, a great group of guys,” Peralta said. “And we showed it today.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.