Dodgers count on returns from injured players

Dodgers count on returns from injured players

LOS ANGELES -- Whether it's the fans, media or even the players in the clubhouse, everybody wants to know what Dodgers management will do to improve the roster before the Trade Deadline.

Disappointment remains over the club taking a pass last summer on Cole Hamels, who many in the sport believed would have been the game-changing player to put the Dodgers in the World Series for the first time since 1988.

Even with the deep pockets of the Guggenheim owners, current management has shied away from impact acquisitions, while mostly tinkering around the fringes of the roster. So a dramatic change from a youth-movement philosophy might be an unrealistic expectation.

Current management is just as likely to trade away a big name, having dealt Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon and now rumored to be shopping Yasiel Puig.

Then, there's this: there are players that underperformed in the first half that are heating up, and others are likely to return from injury.

"We keep an eye on our guys that are now heading toward their career norm, but also guys coming back from injury, and you have to ask, how would a trade acquisition fit in?" said general manager Farhan Zaidi. "With Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, Andre Ethier figuring to be back, the question is, do you acquire someone or view those guys as the infusion?"

Pederson's RBI single

Zaidi's answer applies to the lineup, where the three outfielders should soon return, as well as the starting rotation, with Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and Brett Anderson on the comeback trail.

As for the bullpen, Zaidi said the Dodgers need a reliever who can pitch multiple innings but didn't rule out the possibility it could be 19-year-old Julio Urias, as a relief role would help the club win while minimize his innings -- another front-office desire.

TRADE SCENARIO
The Dodgers needed a front-line starter last year when they had a healthy Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Now they don't have Greinke, and Kershaw is on the disabled list, so an argument could be made that the need is greater this year. But with Kershaw, Wood and Anderson healing and Bud Norris already acquired, it's just as easy to argue that the offense needs an impact bat, especially in the outfield, unless the club is counting on Pederson and Ethier to get the job done when they return from a separated shoulder and a broken leg, respectively.

WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?
Unless the Giants collapse, the Dodgers are looking at an NL Wild Card berth, which isn't what fans expect after three straight division titles, nor what ownership seemingly wants after laying out another $240 million in payroll.

THE ROAD AHEAD
The Dodgers come out of the break with three games in Arizona, then a real test with stops in Washington and St. Louis. The schedulemaker was kind in providing six days off in the first 32 days back. There are nine games remaining head-to-head with the Giants, six at home and three on the road.

KEY PLAYER
Kershaw is the best the Dodgers have, or at present, don't have. His recovery from a slight herniated disk in his lower back is presumed to be mandatory if the Dodgers are to have any success in the postseason or even reach it. He showed in 2014 -- the only other time he was on the disabled list -- that he knows how to recover from injury. That year, he won the NL MVP and Cy Young Awards.

Kershaw strikes out 11

PROSPECTS TO WATCH
The Dodgers have already seen some of their big league-ready prospects. Urias, who made eight starts for the Dodgers, could provide the most intrigue as he's being transitioned to be a multiple-innings reliever. Ross Stripling stepped in early with some impressive Major League starts, and the club hasn't seen Jose De Leon on the big league level as he's had nagging injuries. Outfielder Andrew Toles, given a second chance after wearing out his welcome in Tampa Bay, can provide much-needed speed off the bench.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.