Monday’s Dodgers win over the Guardians provided a few glimpses of how pitching usage is a little different during spring training, and offered a chance to check in on the pace of games under the new MLB rules.
Despite using a gaggle of arms every day in spring training, most of the appearances begin at the start of an inning. Through 17 games, the Dodgers have only made 16 mid-inning pitcher changes this spring, even though they’ve averaged using 7.3 pitchers per game.
Keep that in mind when you see references to how short spring training games are this year with the pitch timer, compared to last spring. Dodgers games this spring, for instance, average two hours, 39 minutes through Monday, 19 minutes shorter than the average for all of last spring.
Monday’s game lasted two hours, 52 the fourth-longest Dodgers game this spring yet still shorter than last year’s average.
Not only will regular season games feature more mid-inning pitching changes, but will also have longer commercial breaks. There should still be a pretty significant reduction in average game time this season, but we’re not going to go from three hours, six minutes last year to, say, two and a half hours this year.
But one of those mid-inning pitching changes came on Monday, with a quirk that is unique to spring training. Michael Grove after a 19-pitch first inning threw 23 more pitches to six batters to get only two outs in the second inning, having allowed three runs in his start. Rather than subject Grove to an especially-taxing single frame, Dave Roberts removed the right-hander, to let minor league pitcher Justin Hagenman finish out the inning.
But Grove was back out there to start the third inning, thanks to re-entry being allowed during spring training games. Grove’s third inning of work was by far his best, and shortest, needing only nine pitches.
The main reason spring training is so long to begin with — besides selling tickets for exhibition games — is so starting pitchers can build up arm strength to prepare for the regular season. Grove certainly qualifies here, as he’s in the mix for a spot in the opening day starting rotation with Tony Gonsolin sidelined by an ankle injury.
Max Muncy, looking forward to building off a healthy offseason and re-finding his swing late last year, hit his first home run of spring training on Monday, a pulled shot to right field off right-hander James Karinchak.
Max for the lead! pic.twitter.com/S3AYgwP9JY— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) March 13, 2023
Another mid-inning pitching change came in the fifth inning, when Gavin Stone was pulled after recording five outs and throwing 33 pitches in his outing. The reigning Dodgers minor league pitcher of the year allowed a walk and a single while striking out three on Monday. It was his first outing in a week, because Stone has been dealing with strep throat, per David Vassegh of Dodger Talk.
Michael Busch homered on Sunday for his first extra-base hit of the spring, then followed that up Monday with a double and two singles. The power of small sample sizes during spring training — Busch through Saturday had a .436 OPS, and two days later he’s at .828, with 28 total plate appearances in Cactus League play.
Hunter Feduccia started at catcher on Monday, his second start, evenly splitting starting duties behind the plate with fellow non-roster invitees Patrick Mazeika and David Freitas with both Will Smith and Austin Barnes at the World Baseball Classic. Feduccia has batted all of 14 times in spring training, and leads the team with nine runs batted in, including one on a fifth-inning single off Touki Toussaint. Feduccia has six hits in 12 at-bats with a home run and two doubles, plus two walks.
Eddys Leonard, who’s played shortstop in 11 of his 13 games this spring in addition to brief appearances at second base and third base, hit his first home run of the Cactus League Monday. Leonard is hitting .409/.435/.591 (9-for-22).
Leonard goes deep ✈️ pic.twitter.com/27u6hh19bv— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) March 13, 2023
After the game, Busch and Leonard were among nine players sent to minor league camp in the latest round of spring roster cuts.
The Dodgers are off Tuesday, their final off day of the Arizona portion of their spring training schedule, but host the Rockies on Wednesday night (6:05 p.m., SportsNet LA). Clayton Kershaw makes his second Cactus League start.