PHOENIX – For five innings on Monday, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager stood on the infield dirt beneath the sun during a minor-league game. He shifted his positioning in between batters, swept his feet across the ground and mostly waited for something to do.
On two occasions, both in the second inning against the Chicago White Sox, a baseball actually came his way.
Both times, Seager performed one of baseball's most basic gestures, an activity given added importance because of the uncertainty about his right elbow and because he had yet to do it in a game this spring: He picked up the baseball and threw it to first base.
Seager completed both throws without much difficulty. On the second, he bobbled the ball, which forced him to use more energy on the peg. He assisted the put-out on both chances. Neither throw looked particularly challenging. Seager greeted the endeavor with essentially a shrug.
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"Wasn't really worried about that," Seager said. "I was more just worried about getting into some games and getting into the flow of things."
Seager did not view the outing as a milestone worth celebrating. He suspected that if he had not gotten sick earlier this spring and missed about a week of action, he would have appeared in a game much earlier. He reiterated that he does not feel discomfort in his elbow, which bothered him throughout the second half of 2017. He plans to be ready for opening day.
"Right now there's nothing telling me otherwise," Seager said. "I don't really want to start thinking about if and when or whatever. For right now, pretty confident."
The team's medical staff did not recommend surgery for Seager this winter. But he arrived at camp on a restricted throwing program, designed to reduce the unnecessary stress on his arm and ease him into the season. Seager had only played designated hitter in games before Monday.
His next step involves a seven-inning stint in the field. That is scheduled for Wednesday, Seager said. The team has not determined whether it will occur during a Cactus League game or in a more controlled minor-league setting.
"It was nice to be in the flow of the game, and not just DH," Seager said. "That was really nice. Hopefully I'll keep doing that some more."
Despite a 10-day break to protect his arm last season, Seager appeared in 145 games. Manager Dave Roberts indicated the team will continue to monitor Seager's workload during the season. Seager sparred with team officials about restrictions on his activity in 2017. "We'll manage him week to week," Roberts said.
Asked if he was on board with any plan to reduce his playing time, Seager shook his head.
"No," he said. "No. No."
JANSEN SLIDES THROUGH OUTING
Kenley Jansen devised a novel strategy for his minor-league outing against the White Sox on Monday. He wanted to avoid the hitters jumping on his cut fastball early in the count. So Jansen leaned on his slider, throwing it nine times in a 13-pitch outing, he said.
"You're not jumping me today," Jansen said.
Jansen induced a pop-up and struck out two batters for a spotless inning. Jansen threw his slider only 8 percent of the time in 2017, but intends to use it more this season.
He was pitching for the first time since Friday, when he injured his hamstring warming up before his first scheduled appearance in the Cactus League. That outing is now slated for Thursday. Jansen expects to pitch once more after that before the team breaks camp.
BUEHLER TO MINORS, FOR NOW
After five strikeouts during two electric innings in his Cactus League debut on Saturday, Dodgers pitching prospect Walker Buehler was optioned to the minors on Monday afternoon.
The Dodgers trimmed seven players from their clubhouse: Buehler, infielder Rob Segedin and reliever Edward Paredes were optioned out. The trio of pitcher Manny Banuelos, infielder Max Muncy and catcher Will Smith were reassigned to minor-league camp. The team released veteran reliever Mark Lowe, who was a nonroster invitee to camp.
Buehler will not stay in the minor leagues for long. The Dodgers plan to give him a Cactus League start later this week. The team expects him to contribute to the big-league rotation at some point during the season, as long as he stays healthy. Buehler is not expected to throw more than 150 innings this season, after undergoing elbow ligament reconstruction in 2015.
"We want to continue to build him up, and he's really shone well," Roberts said. "He got a late start because of not feeling well physically. But his last outing was very good."