The trip to Australia abbreviated Spring Training this year, and that played into the conditioning program for the pitchers, who must have regular work to build arm strength. Even though the Dodgers reported to spring camp earlier than most teams, their pitchers didn't have enough competitive situations. When the Dodgers went to Australia, they had a week without games. And when they returned, they didn't have a game in five days.
Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt didn't criticize the trip, but he commented that MLB needs to think more about the preparation for the season.
Now, the Dodgers have two pitchers who have suffered injuries that require time on the disabled list. Clayton Kershaw tried to rush to pitch Opening Day in Australia, where he hurled 100 pitches for the win. The long flight from Australia didn't help Kershaw's physical condition, and upon returning home, Kershaw was diagnosed with an inflamed muscle in his back. At first, the Dodgers weren't too concerned about the injury, but in further examination of an MRI, the doctor found the injury to be more serious. Kershaw is not expected to return to action before the end of April.
Last August and September, after joining the Dodgers upon recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, Brian Wilson was one of the best relievers in baseball. After re-signing him in the offseason, the Dodgers looked forward to having him fill the important role of eighth-inning setup man. But the shortened Spring Training didn't allow the Dodgers to pitch him in many games. Despite having a great outing in Australia, Wilson had a terrible eighth on Opening Night against the San Diego Padres.
Doctors diagnosed Wilson with an irritated nerve in his elbow and the club put him on the disabled list. The Dodgers think he needs to pitch more in rehabilitation games to build sufficient arm strength, but they expect Wilson to return within 15 days.
The Dodgers initially didn't need to have a fifth starter until April 15, but manager Don Mattingly wants to give Hyun-Jin Ryu, who already has pitched in three games, an extra day, so the club must fill that role on Wednesday against the Detroit Tigers. This is a problem. Josh Beckett has recovered from the thoracic outlet surgery, and yet injuries have hampered his return. During Spring Training, his bruised thumb prevented him from throwing his curveball. Thursday night in a rehab start, while fielding a bunt, Beckett twisted an ankle. No one knows when he can join the rotation.
Chad Billingsley is on schedule to return from Tommy John elbow surgery in May or June.
Pitching isn't the only aspect of the game that has been affected by the trip to Australia. Before Sunday night's game against the Giants, the Dodgers' offense hadn't shown the ability to link hits together or hit with runners in scoring position. And the lineup hadn't displayed much power until Sunday.
The Australia trip isn't responsible for all of the Dodgers' injuries. Saturday afternoon, two more important players went down. A day after being benched for his tardiness, Yasiel Puig, trying to show hustle, slid headfirst into first base and strained a ligament in his thumb. He couldn't play Sunday, but luckily, the Dodgers don't think it's a disabled-list situation.
It is a different story with A.J. Ellis. While scoring on a single by Andre Ethier, Ellis tore his meniscus, requiring arthroscopic surgery Tuesday. The Dodgers will miss their everyday catcher, who had a similar operation in 2012. His expertise in handling the pitching staff can't be replaced easily. To me, Ellis' injury is the biggest blow and represents the biggest challenge to the Dodgers.
The Dodgers won't use the Australia trip as an excuse, but it's clear it affected their preparation, and their start to the season could have gone smoother.