By Jon Weisman
The first inning of the Dodgers’ 6-1 Cactus League opening victory over the White Sox (summarized by Ken Gurnick of MLB.com) was a Spring Training work of art.
After Clayton Kershaw’s initial shutout inning, leadoff hitter Howie Kendrick worked a walk off Chicago starter John Danks. Facing the White Sox lefty in his first at-bat of the season, Andre Ethier singled the opposite way.
Two of the next three hitters — Yasiel Puig and Yasmani Grandal — then hit solid RBI singles. Significantly, a baserunner went from first to third on each.
“If you look at the numbers of how this team ran the bases last year, we can do better,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s a point of emphasis for sure. It’s more of a mindset than a style of baseball. That’s how you play the game.”
Starting at third base, Alex Guerrero hit a second-inning homer and later doubled. Rob Segedin, Austin Barnes and Kiké Hernandez also drove in runs.
“There were a lot of good things (today),” Dave Roberts said. “We talk a lot about winning baseball games, but it’s about winning the right way. Today, we look at the pitching, the defense, the at-bats we put out there, the baserunning, that’s how we (want to) play.”
That Kendrick was the key to the ignition didn’t go unnoticed, but Roberts hardly has locked him in as a leadoff hitter.
“We really don’t have that prototypical leadoff guy, but Howie has shown that ability to get on base,” Roberts said. “So with the right matchups, it’s definitely worthy of conversation. I don’t want to read too much into this first game, where guys are hitting this early, but for sure he’s definitely in the mix.”
You could hardly complain about Kershaw’s performance, unless of course you are Kershaw. Actually, Roberts praised his ace but agreed with him that if you wanted to nitpick, his fastball location wasn’t great.
“I threw some good ones, but it just wasn’t very consistent,” Kershaw said. “Missing over the plate some and missing some high. I need to clean that up a little bit. Offspeed stuff was OK today, which sometimes take a little bit, so I guess that’s a positive.”
Also not to be ignored were the two shutout innings from Joe Blanton that included three strikeouts.
“The at-bat that really stood out was that at-bat with (Jose) Abreu, that he ended punching him out,” Roberts said. “Breaking ball good, down in the zone. I thought he threw the ball really well. It’s hard to evaluate in Arizona, (but) that’s more so on the hitting side. The wind, the light air, the hard ground — if you can get outs in Arizona, you’re doing something right.”