Change, hope for Dodgers

Open­ing day brings a new look to sta­dium, ex­pec­ta­tions for team

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - BILL PLASCHKE

The smell of fresh paint fills the con­course. The sight of ush­ers dressed in Bos­ton Celtics green rat­tles the nerves. The gi­ant luxury car hood or­na­ment sit­ting atop the right­field score­board raises eye­brows.

The 2015 ver­sion of Dodger Sta­dium opened its doors for the first time Satur­day and changes were as nu­mer­ous as An­gels bats on Brett An­der­son pitches.

Miss­ing will be the sooth­ing sound of a ball­park or­gan, as 28-year vet­eran Nancy Bea He­fley’s work­load has been re­duced to one song dur­ing the ac­tual game. One. She waits for seven innings, plays “Take Me Out to the Ball­game,” and goes home.

There is a new clock be­hind the cen­ter-field fence, tick­ing off 2:25 be­tween innings, an ef­fort to speed the pace of play, as if any of those lol­ly­gag­ging lugs are go­ing to pay at­ten­tion. There is a new voice boom­ing over the pub­li­cad­dress sys­tem, for­mer ra­dio re­porter Todd Leitz re­plac­ing Eric Smith, who

de­cided to de­vote his time to, among other things, an­nounc­ing for the Clip­pers, thus gain­ing re­venge for all the time the Clip­pers were booed at Dodger Sta­dium.

Of all the changes at Dodger Sta­dium, though, none seem more un­set­tled than down­stairs, out of sight, in the ac­tual room where the real Dodgers live.

Jimmy Rollins is in Matt Kemp’s for­mer locker. Yas­mani Gran­dal is in Han­ley Ramirez’s for­mer locker. An­dre Ethier is in no-man’s land, hav­ing re­lo­cated his locker for the first time since join­ing the team, half­way across the room, float­ing around in there as he’s do­ing on the ros­ter.

Yasiel Puig hasn’t moved, he still has the locker clos­est to the door, giv­ing him the best chance to rush in­side and get dressed be­fore be­ing marked tardy. Juan Uribe also hasn’t moved, he’s still on the other end of the club­house, which means he can still only sit help­lessly while Puig screams jok­ing in­sults at him from across the room.

Then there’s odd lit­tle pock­ets that house some of the most anony­mous, im­por­tant guys in the room. The re­liev­ers. A bullpen for the leader of the bullpen.

Along one wall is J.P. How­ell and Joel Per­alta. Along an­other wall is Paco Ro­driguez, Chris Hatcher, Pe­dro Baez and Yimi Garcia. The six pitch­ers have com­bined for 35 ca­reer ma­jor league saves, nine fewer than Ken­ley Jansen ac­cu­mu­lated last sea­son, yet be­gin­ning with Mon­day’s open­ing day at the sta­dium against the San Diego Padres, they will be asked to re­place Jansen for at least a month while he re­cov­ers from foot surgery.

“It’s go­ing to be a fast, fun ride,” How­ell said.

And a scary one. The other new Dodgers faces have pedi­gree and pro­duc­tion. Th­ese guys have wings and prayers.

“Who’s it go­ing to be?” How­ell said. “It’s like, ‘It could be you. Or you. Or you. Or all of us.’ ”

When Rollins leads off on open­ing day against the Padres, fans know they are cheer­ing a for­mer Na­tional League most valu­able player. When Howie Ken­drick bats cleanup, fans will re­mem­ber all of his big hits for the An­gels. Be­hind the plate, Gran­dal will be re­mem­bered for some of his bat­tles as a Padre.

But in the ninth in­ning in a save sit­u­a­tion? Folks can only hold their breath.

“I feel pretty good about it, I like the com­bi­na­tion of guys, we have a num­ber of guys who have been throw­ing the ball well,” Manager Don Mat­tingly said.

But, yeah, he’ll be hold­ing his breath, too.

The Dodgers would like for the hard-throw­ing Hatcher, a for­mer Miami Mar­lins con­verted catcher, to be the guy. But he has never had a ca­reer save and strug­gled this spring with a 6.23 earned-run av­er­age in 10 ap­pear­ances.

The left-right duo of Ro­driguez and Garcia had a great spring, com­bin­ing to give up only one run in 22 innings. But Ro­driguez has but two ma­jor league saves and Garcia has ap­peared in only eight ma­jor league games.

Baez, a con­verted third base­man, has tons of po­ten­tial and struck out 11 with only two walks in 10 spring innings. But he has yet to record his first ma­jor league save.

The two vet­er­ans who could most eas­ily work the in­stant-closer gig are their two best setup men. How­ell and Per­alta, an im­por­tant off-sea­son ac­qui­si­tion from Tampa Bay, have com­bined for 958 ma­jor league ap­pear­ances, but most have come be­fore the ninth in­ning.

Both guys have pitched in Tampa, in sim­i­lar closer-by-com­mit­tee sit­u­a­tions un­der An­drew Fried­man, now the Dodgers’ pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions. Both guys say it can work here for the month that Jansen will be side­lined. They said Satur­day that they were go­ing to hold a bullpen meet­ing to get ev­ery­one’s mind right.

“You don’t want to do it long-term, but we know Ken­ley is com­ing back soon, and we can fig­ure it out,” How­ell said. “Some­times guys com­plain when they pitch or don’t pitch, but we can’t have that here. We have to have each other’s back and all be ready.”

Added Per­alta: “We’re go­ing to re­mind guys, be part of this bullpen, be ready for any­thing, don’t ask for innings, don’t cry about it, just be ready for it.”

The guess here is that Mon­day af­ter­noon, if a closer is needed, Hatcher gets the first chance. And if he can grab it, he will keep it. But who knows if he can grab it.

It could be the sea­son’s coolest new story. Or maybe not. The only thing cer­tain is, the Dodgers big­gest night­mare would be to begin this sea­son the way they ended last sea­son, with a de­feat re­sult­ing from bullpen chaos.

Well, at that point, at least Nancy Bea He­fley could ser­e­nade the de­part­ing fans with strains of “To­mor­row.”

That is, if she were still there.

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