GLENDALE, Ariz. – Trayce Thompson watched a lot of baseball last year. He did not enjoy it.
“It was tough, man,” the Dodgers outfielder said of being sidelined for half the season with a back injury. “It’s one thing to see your team play without you. That’s difficult. But it’s a tough thing to watch them down the stretch and make the playoffs and play those intense games and not be a part of it. The guys were great, trying to make me still feel part of the team. But it was tough not being able to be out there with them.”
Thompson learned a lot of difficult lessons last year – like, in retrospect, realizing that his back injury was more serious than he wanted to believe. He first began feeling the discomfort in May but played through the pain. He was hitting .270 with an .865 OPS on May 28, but hit .185 with a .636 OPS over his next 39 games. He further injured the back when he ran into a wall while making a catch in July.
That’s when stress fractures in two vertebra in his lower back were found and Thompson headed to the DL, his season over on July 10.
“It definitely was (more serious than he wanted to acknowledge),” Thompson says now. “But I didn’t feel as bad as it sounds.
“I’d been playing with it since the middle of May but I enjoy the game so much and I was getting a chance to play on a regular basis. I didn’t want to say anything. I didn’t want to tap out in that scenario.”
The pain didn’t fully disappear until December. Even then, Thompson had to be patient as the team’s medical staff continued to limit his activity level and workouts. He is fully participating in drills now that spring training has begun but probably won’t be allowed to play in games until the second week of the Cactus League schedule. Simulated games are in his immediate future.
“Trayce is right on track. He really is,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “The No. 1 thing is we just want to make sure he’s healthy.
“He hasn’t played in a major-league game since July. So it’s been awhile. He still needs to get out there and see live pitching. But there’s that balance in spring training to where you don’t want to run him out there too much versus getting him the at-bats so he can feel good about things when he hasn’t competed in awhile. That’s something we’ve got to kind of work through.”
Thompson has reason to be eager for the reins to be taken off. The Dodgers have a deep group of outfielders fighting for spots on the season-opening roster. As many as nine can be considered candidates for the limited number of spots – Andre Ethier, Andrew Toles, Franklin Gutierrez, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Scott Van Slyke, Thompson and utilitymen Kike’ Hernandez and Charlie Culberson.
“I know if I’m healthy and right, I can have as big an impact as anybody,” Thompson said.
Left-handers Hyun-Jin Ryu and Scott Kazmir threw to hitters Friday, their second live batting practice session of the spring.
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said he has seen nothing but progress from Ryu, who is trying to return after shoulder and elbow surgeries the past two years.
“No negatives for me,” he said after Friday’s session. “It’s been impressive. … His delivery looks great. The command is great. Now, I just think it’s a matter of him getting the reps.”
Honeycutt said he has been particularly encouraged by the way Ryu has bounced back from each throwing session with no setbacks. The next step should be throwing in a game, but it hasn’t been decided yet whether that will be in a simulated-game setting or a Cactus League game.
“Right now, I’m hoping if he feels fine, he’ll want to pitch in a regular game,” Honeycutt said. “But we’re not there yet (to make that decision).”
The Dodgers will open the Cactus League schedule Saturday at Camelback Ranch against the Chicago White Sox. Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to start for the Dodgers and pitch just one inning – his preference, according to Roberts. Rich Hill (on Sunday) and Kenta Maeda (Monday) are expected to pitch two innings each in their first spring starts. Roberts said he plans to play the rest of his starters for two plate appearances each Saturday.
Roberts also said he expects young left-hander Julio Urias to pitch in a Cactus League game next week.
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