Dodgers awaiting return of injured players

Kershaw, other pitchers will be back soon, biggest need may shift to offense

Dodgers awaiting return of injured players

LOS ANGELES -- Throughout the first half of the season, the Dodgers played whack-a-mole to plug a leaky starting rotation riddled by injury.

Now, with Clayton Kershaw about to return, perhaps followed soon by Alex Wood and even Brett Anderson, has the team's greatest need with the approaching Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline shifted to offense?

Results from the completed series in Arizona were mixed. A 13-run outburst Friday night seemed to signal the surge in production before the All-Star break could be sustained. Then, the Dodgers scored one run over the next 19 innings, and even perpetually upbeat manager Dave Roberts conceded concern about the lineup's offensive approach.

"We've addressed it," he said on Sunday. "We're working on it. It's a work in progress."

The most likely area to improve is in the outfield, especially with the disappointing news that Andre Ethier's right leg isn't fully healed four months after breaking it. In an interview with the Dodgers' flagship radio station, AM570, Ethier said he's still hopeful of contributing "before the end of the season."

Joc Pederson will return from a slight right shoulder separation on Tuesday night, but a slumping Trayce Thompson is out with a bad back and Enrique Hernandez is down with left rib inflammation. Reportedly, the Dodgers may be willing to move Yasiel Puig, as counterintuitive as that would seem for a club seeking outfield production, particularly as his trade value has steadily diminished with production since his runner-up finish for the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year Award.

The most frequently rumored target is the Reds' Jay Bruce, which could be true or just misinformation, as president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has said misinformation effectively camouflages true intent.

Then there's the bullpen. It has exceeded all expectations, especially since management responded to repeated short starts by adding an eighth arm. While that has come at the cost of a fifth bench player, limiting Roberts' late-game strategy, it has provided coverage for an exhausting workload.

Roberts insists the extra arm has effectively spread the workload, while preventing overwork, except in one case.

"The only guy that has pitched where you would [see] extra use is maybe Joe Blanton," said Roberts. "I've leaned on Joe quite a bit."

Blanton, reinvented as a reliever last year, came into the season projected as a multiple-innings middle reliever, but he took over the right-handed setup role from Chris Hatcher. Blanton, 35, leads the club with 48 1/3 relief innings in 44 appearances, with a 2.05 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP.

The pool of relievers available in the next two weeks could include Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman if the Yankees become sellers.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.