SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Gabe Kapler announced his starter for Saturday's Cactus League opener and then later noted, "I wouldn't read anything into" the decision. But it's still a big deal for the organization, with Kapler making his debut, and the game could be a pretty important one for the pitcher chosen to throw the first pitch.
Dereck Rodriguez will kick things off against the Dodgers on Saturday, weather permitting. Two years after he broke through, Rodriguez is on the outside of the rotation race, with the far more likely scenario being a bullpen job. But even that race is crowded, and Rodriguez will be one of the first to get a shot to impress.
Asked about his conversations with Rodriguez, Kapler said he doesn't think the 27-year-old right-hander needs any extra motivation.
"My sense is that he's pretty self-critical and is tough on himself, and I think some of the up and down has been tough on him," Kapler said. "Frankly there hasn't been as much velocity in 2019 as there was in '18. He's made some progress this spring with that. He's had a little bit more velocity in his bullpens."
Rodriguez's average fastball velocity dropped about one MPH from 2018 to 2019. His ERA jumped from 2.81 to 5.64. Kapler said that Rodriguez, like many of the younger pitchers in camp, needs to focus on flexibility and being able to do both roles. He's expected to throw two innings Saturday.
Kapler plans to have Buster Posey, Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt in that first lineup. The plan has tentatively been for Brandon Crawford to play, too, although the shortstop missed a couple of days earlier this week because he got sick.