Smith steps up, leads Dodgers to Opening Day win

MLB

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LOS ANGELES — There’s no denying it was an unusual winter for the Dodgers.

For the first time in years, the Dodgers didn’t make a huge splash in free agency or via the trade market. Instead, they watched Trea Turner, Justin Turner and Tyler Anderson sign multi-year deals elsewhere. Cody Bellinger, another longtime member of the organization, was released.

As all those moves unfolded, the patience from the outside began to run thin. Internally, however, the Dodgers felt they would still field a very competitive team. Perhaps not one that would match the franchise-record 111 wins from a season ago, but still one that would be among the elite in the National League.

The Dodgers will have all summer to prove themselves right. They’ll look to answer all the questions that were raised about them all winter. The Dodgers’ first impression was a good one as they opened the season with an 8-2 win Thursday over the D-backs on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium.

“Tonight, I hope, was a sign of things to come,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “This lineup, internally, we realized how much length we had and they certainly showed that today.” 

A big reason why the Dodgers remained optimistic throughout the changes is because of the star power the team still has on the roster. Though Trea Turner is a big loss in the lineup, the Dodgers still have Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith, three of the top players at their positions.

For Smith, the loss of Turner opens the door for the catcher to become the Dodgers’ three-hole hitter, creating even more opportunities for him to drive in runs. Smith took full advantage of those opportunities on Thursday, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs, including the first three runs of the season for the Dodgers. The four RBIs from Smith are the most by a catcher on Opening Day in Dodgers history.

“We had pressure on them the whole night,” Smith said. “It was big hit after big hit. He [Zac Gallen] was close to getting out of it with a zero, but it was just nice for us that I was able to do that. We just kept going after that.” 

Despite being more productive than most catchers in the Majors since becoming a regular in 2019, Smith is still one of the most underrated players in the league. For the Dodgers, however, Smith is one of the keys to the ’23 season.

With Smith and Freeman leading the way offensively to start the game, it opened the door for the supporting cast to extend the lead. J.D. Martinez and David Peralta each delivered RBI singles in their Dodgers debuts. James Outman, one of the key young players this season, made his Dodger Stadium debut and smacked a two-run homer in the sixth off right-hander Cole Sulser.

“I think our lineup is great,” Peralta said. “From leading off all the way to the ninth hitter, I think it’s great. So whoever has to pitch that game is going to have to be ready for us.” 

That was plenty of offense for Julio Urías, who allowed two earned runs over six innings, in his first career Opening Day start. Urías, who comes into the season as the Dodgers’ ace, struggled early, allowing four baserunners over the first two innings. But the Mexican left-hander was able to settle in, retiring 13 of the last 15 batters he faced.

“I just needed to feel like myself again out on the mound,” Urías said in Spanish. “The first few innings I was cutting a little short with my fastball and it was an advantage for the hitters. But then I made some adjustments over the next few innings, and we saw some of the results.” 

The Dodgers’ season will be determined over the next few months and into October. Opening Day is just one game. But it served as a reminder that although the Dodgers might look different in ’23, they’re still a dangerous club.

“What do you mean, you didn’t know what to expect, you know?” Peralta said. “We have a great team. We have a great group of guys and that’s what we’re going to do. We showed up today and we won the game today.”

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