LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles Dodgers will begin their 2023 season Thursday evening at Dodger Stadium against the Arizona Diamondbacks amid substantial changes to the team, stadium and sport.
Three of the starters from the 2022 team that won a franchise-record 111 games departed via free agency -- third baseman-designated hitter Justin Turner, shortstop Trea Turner and center fielder Cody Bellinger -- along with left-hander pitcher Tyler Anderson, a 2022 All-Star Game selection during a season he was fourth in the National League in winning percentage (.750) and fifth in ERA (2.57) and victories (15).
Five-time all-star J.D. Martinez is among the six newcomers on the 26- player opening day roster. The Dodgers signed Martinez to a one-year, $10 million contract Dec. 29 after he spent the previous five seasons with the Boston Red Sox. Martinez is 185th on the career home run list with 282. He hit a record-tying four home runs against the Dodgers on Sept. 4, 2017 while playing with the Diamondbacks.
Martinez is expected to be the Dodgers' designated hitter.
Noah Syndergaard was the Dodgers' top off-season pitching acquisition. The right-hander signed a one-year contract for $13 million after splitting the 2022 season with the Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies, going a combined 10-10 with a 3.94 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 134 2/3 innings in 25 games.
Syndergaard is scheduled to make his Dodger debut in the finale of the four-game series Sunday.
There are four rookies on the roster -- pitcher Andre Jackson and Ryan Pepiot, outfielder James Outman and infielder-outfielder Miguel Vargas -- who all played for the Dodgers in 2022, but are still considered rookies.
After winning the National League West nine of the past 10 seasons, including by a 22-game margin over the San Diego Padres last season, the Dodgers are in the rare position of being underdogs.
The website Fangraphs gives the Padres a 55.4% chance of winning the division and projects they will be 92-70 and finish four games ahead of the Dodgers, who it gives a 31.2% chance of winning the division.
The Dodgers will also have a newcomer in the broadcast booth -- Stephen Nelson who will call more than 50 games for SportsNet LA when Joe Davis is unavailable due to his Fox Sports commitments.
Nelson has called games and hosted studio shows for MLB Network and NHL Network and was a host and broadcaster for Bleacher Report. He will be the only Asian American play-by-play announcer working for a MLB team, according to the Dodgers.
Nelson was raised in Huntington Beach, graduated from Marina High School and Chapman University and was an intern at KTLA and Fox Sports West.
All of Dodger Stadium's field lights were replaced by LED lights. The 600-fixture system will bring better visibility for players and fans, enhance high-definition broadcasts and minimize glare and spill from affecting anyone in or around the stadium, according to the team.
The Dodgers said the new system is also more energy-efficient, and have color-changing abilities allowing the lights to be used more creatively for on-field celebrations and concerts.
Dodger Stadium is among more than a dozen Major League Baseball stadiums with customized LED technology, including the only two stadiums older than Dodger Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.
Other changes to Dodger Stadium include new furniture and seating in the Stadium Club and a new 19 1/2-foot Stadium Club LED board and sound system. Larger televisions, including a 100-inch television, have also been added to the Stadium Club.
A display case featuring some Vin Scully's most significant awards has been added to the hallway behind the Vin Scully Press Box. The collection includes Scully's 1955, 1963, 1982, 1988 and 2020 World Series rings, Medal of Freedom and two Emmys.
Gil Hodges' retired number has been added to the Bank of America Retired Numbers Plaza at the Top of the Park.
New food and drink offerings include:
-- Philly cheesesteak sandwich, wild mushroom Philly sandwich and Philly chicken sandwich at LA Cheesesteak, Stand 208 on the field level;
-- Fried cheesecake on a stick -- New York-style cheesecake, hand dipped in tempura batter, topped with powdered sugar raspberry sauce at Dunkin, Stand 246 on the Field Level, and Trolley Treats, Stand 702 on the Reserved Level;
-- Hot link corn dog -- Chipotle sausage hand dipped in corn batter, cheese sauce and hot Cheeto dust at Flamin' Hot Corner, Stand 247 on the Field Level;
-- Mediterranean chicken bowl and Mediterranean falafel bowl at LA Grille, Stand 245 on the Field Level; and
A new barbecue platter -- rack smoked pork ribs, smoked half chicken, smoked brisket, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, fresh corn and baked beans -- will be available at Think Blue BBQ, Stand 251 on the Field Level.
Pregame pageantry includes Cy Young Award winners Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela and Eric Gagné throwing ceremonial first pitches to Rick Dempsey, Mike Scioscia and manager Dave Roberts with Mayor Karen Bass delivering the ceremonial first pitch balls to the mound.
Members and veterans of all branches of the military will unfurl a giant American flag in center field during the national anthem, which will be performed by Keith Williams Jr.
A flyover by two F-35 planes and one F-22 plane will occur during the national anthem.
A tribute video to Scully on the Dodgers' first opening day since his death Aug. 2 at age 94 will be played before Julio Urías throws the game's first pitch.
The Military Hero of the Game is Tokuji `Toke Yoshihashi, a 100-year old Army World War II veteran and native Angeleno.
The 7:10 p.m. game -- a rare nighttime opener for the Dodgers -- will be televised by SportsNet LA.
The game will be the first both teams have officially played under the biggest set of rule changes in baseball history.
Major League Baseball has added a pitch timer, put restrictions on defensive shifts and expanded bases in an attempt to improve pace of play, reduce dead time, encourage more balls in play, give players more opportunities to showcase their athleticism and reduce injuries.
Pitchers will have up to 15 seconds between pitches when the bases are empty and up to 20 seconds between pitches with at least one runner on base. A pitcher must begin his motion before the expiration of the timer. A violation will result in a ball being called.
A pitcher may "disengage the rubber," including to attempt a pickoff throw, twice per plate appearance without penalty. Subsequent disengagements result in a balk, unless an out is recorded on a runner.
The pitch timer resets following a disengagement. The disengagement count resets if the runner advances.
A hitter must be in the batter's box and alert to the pitcher with at least eight seconds remaining on the pitch timer.
A hitter receives one timeout per plate appearance.
Umpires will have authority to provide additional time if warranted by special circumstances, such as a catcher making the last out of the inning and needing additional time to get into defensive position.
The pitch timer was used in minor league baseball last season, with the average time of a nine-inning game reduced 26 minutes from three hours, four minutes in 2021 to two hours, 38 minutes in 2022, according to MLB.
Stolen base attempts per game increased from 2.23 in 2019, at a 68% success rate, to 2.83 in 2022, at a 77% success rate.
Two infielders must be positioned on each side of second base when the pitch is released, all four infielders must have both feet within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber and infielders may not switch sides unless there is a substitution.
The size of first, second and third base will increase from the standard 15-inch square to 18-inch square. Larger bases reduced base-related injuries by 13.5% in minor league baseball in 2022 from 2021.
Bigger bases will reduce the distance between first and second and between second and third base by 4 1/2 inches, encouraging teams to attempt to steal bases more frequently and generally be more aggressive on the basepaths.