Toles' long journey complete with Game 1 start

Toles' long journey complete with Game 1 start

WASHINGTON -- A year ago Andrew Toles watched every Dodgers playoff game from instructional ball in Glendale, Ariz.

He'll have a better seat this time around.

The Dodgers haven't yet finalized their Game 1 lineup, but they've finalized Toles -- who began the season at Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga -- as their starting left fielder against Washington for Friday's series opener (5:30 p.m. ET/2:30 PT on FS1).

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 7 LAD 4, WAS 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 9 WSH 5, LAD 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 WAS 8, LAD 3 video
Gm 4 Oct. 11 LAD 6, WAS 5 video
Gm 5 Oct. 13 LAD 4, WSH 3 video

Last October, Toles had never played a game above Class A, having been released by the Rays in the spring. He didn't play professionally during the 2015 season, before signing a Minor League deal with the Dodgers in September.

Could the 24-year-old rookie ever have envisioned taking the field behind Clayton Kershaw for Game 1 of the National League Division Series?

"Not at all," said Toles with his trademark grin. "But I'm here now, so you've got to make the best of it."

The decision to start Toles means veteran Howie Kendrick is almost certainly slated for a bench role on Friday. Toles has never faced Nationals ace Max Scherzer, but he is batting .326/.382/.511 against right-handed pitching this season.

Kendrick, meanwhile, is 5-for-14 lifetime against Scherzer and brings a wealth of playoff experience to the Dodgers roster. But he owns just a .521 OPS against right-handers since the start of September.

"I don't know the exact way we're going to construct the lineup," said Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts on Thursday. "It's going to look a lot like we've done it. But Andrew Toles is going to start in left field. Where he hits in the order, I haven't decided yet."

In September, Toles jammed his left wrist, but he says it's fully healed by now -- especially given the four days of rest between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. He acknowledged there were times when it bothered him down the stretch, but only slightly.

"A little bit, but, I mean, I'm tough, dude," Toles quipped. "I don't want to be complaining or making excuses."

Toles' playoff debut serves as something of a culmination of a remarkable rookie campaign, in which he progressed through all three levels of the club's Minor League system before joining the Dodgers in July.

He provided one of the club's biggest moments this season with a two-out go-ahead grand slam in the ninth inning of a game in Colorado on Aug. 31. Clearly, the Dodgers are optimistic there's more where that came from.

Statcast: Toles' 98-mph throw

"He's handled all the spotlight really well," said center fielder Joc Pederson. "He's come up with some huge hits for us -- his biggest one was that grand slam in Colorado. That really turned us in the right direction, and got us going. We've played really well since then."

True to his understated nature, Toles isn't one to gush about his journey. Asked how he beat the odds -- not only in returning to baseball, but in making an impact for a title contender -- he says simply, "Hard work, good coaches, sticking to it."

He's also quick to credit the rest of the organization for providing him -- and the other six rookies on the postseason roster -- with an environment in which they could thrive.

"We said it in the meeting the other day: It's going to take all 25 of us to win a world championship," Toles says. "I feel like me, all the rest of the rookies, we don't feel like we're rookies. We're just part of the team."

There was nothing special about the manner in which Roberts delivered the news that Toles would be starting.

"You're in left field tomorrow, just like he normally says," Toles recounted.

When Kershaw took the podium for his workout day press conference, he hadn't heard, until a reporter asked about Toles. Kershaw briefly broke from staidness into an ear-to-ear smile.

"Is he starting?" said Kershaw, as lively a response to any question he received. "That's awesome. Tolesy, he's great, obviously very talented. ... I mean, to be honest, I didn't even know we had a guy named Andrew Toles in the Minor Leagues [earlier this year].

"To meet him and understand where he's been and come from, and the type of guy that he is, and the type of player that he is -- it's pretty special to see."

AJ Cassavell is in his sixth season as a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.