Spring training, a time associated with hopeful optimism, began with ominous familiarity for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The team that set a major league record by putting 28 players on the disabled list last year watched injuries interrupt several key contributors' development.
Right-handers Pedro Baez, Josh Ravin and Sergio Romo dealt with thumb, groin and back injuries, respectively. A tight left hip deprived left-hander Scott Kazmir of velocity. Outfielder Trayce Thompson missed the first 10 days while recovering from back surgery.
Shortstop Corey Seager, the National League Rookie of the Year last season, returned after missing three weeks because of a strained oblique muscle, and he expects to be ready Opening Day. Outfielder Andre Ethier, however, will join Ravin on the disabled list with his second major spring training injury in two years, a herniated disc.
Last year, Ethier broke his right leg by fouling a ball off his shin, and he played just 16 games.
"I've been stuck in spring training for 18 months now," Ethier told the Orange County Register. "It feels like 'Groundhog Day' all over again."
Yet Ethier's allusion to the comedic movie bodes well for the Dodgers.
Despite the numerous injuries last year, Los Angeles won its fourth successive National League West championship. Despite the Dodgers' physical problems so far, they should contend for a fifth.
Seager, left-hander Clayton Kershaw, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, third baseman Justin Turner, catcher Yasmani Grandal and closer Kenley Jansen lead a talented, deep squad. Supplementing that foundation is second baseman Logan Forsythe, who replaces Chase Utley at the position and as the leadoff hitter. Forsythe, the Dodgers' only major offseason acquisition, batted .264 with 24 doubles and a .333 on-base percentage for the Tampa Bay Rays last year.
Andrew Toles exemplifies the Dodgers' depth. Expected to be part of a platoon in left field, Toles laid outright claim to the position this spring by batting .340 and not making an error in the field through Sunday. The 24-year-old continued his success from last year, when he played at three minor league levels and hit .314 in 48 games for the Dodgers after being promoted from Triple-A Oklahoma City.
"He's having a really good camp," manager Dave Roberts told the team's website. "For him, the at-bat quality continues to be there. He's a really good athlete, he's dynamic, and he does a lot of things to help you win a baseball game."
Los Angeles also could receive help for the rotation from left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who pitched just one game in the previous two seasons because of shoulder, elbow and leg injuries. In three outings through the weekend, Ryu conceded only five hits, one run and one walk in nine innings while striking out eight and holding opponents to a .167 average.
However, outfielder Yasiel Puig continues to pose the biggest question: Can a player whom Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully nicknamed "the Wild Horse" harness his talent? A revelation in his first two seasons, Puig's performance and attitude deteriorated so much that the Dodgers tried to trade their former All-Star before optioning him to Oklahoma City in August.
This spring, Puig had three home runs but a .233 average through Sunday. The Dodgers scratched him from the Friday game against the Arizona Diamondbacks so he could work on his swing.
Roberts emphasized Puig's talent while issuing an iron challenge delivered in velvet.
"If Yasiel is going to get 600 at-bats, then the Dodgers are in a pretty good place," Roberts told the Los Angeles Times. "With the skill set of Yasiel, if he's performing and warrants being out there every night, then we're in a good place."