By DAVID BRANDT, AP Sports Writer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers have so many stars this season that Clayton Kershaw is just one of the guys.
But there’s little doubt the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner is still an extremely important piece to one of MLB’s best teams.
Kershaw threw four scoreless innings against the Diamondbacks on Monday in the Cactus League, facing the minimum 12 batters. He gave up a leadoff single to Carson Kelly before coaxing a double play groundout and retiring 11 straight hitters.
“I think overall the fastball command was a lot better today,” Kershaw said. “If I can get ahead of hitters, it’s a good thing. For the most part, another good step forward.”
Much has been made of the Dodgers’ powerful lineup and rightfully so. They made one of the splashiest offseason moves by signing free agent first basemen Freddie Freeman, who joins a batting order that includes Justin Turner, Trea Turner, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Will Smith and Max Muncy.
But the Dodgers look slightly more vulnerable on the mound. They have three stars atop the rotation in Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías but might have to use several different pitchers for the final few spots, including Andrew Heaney, David Price and Tony Gonsolin.
Kershaw signed a one-year, $17 million deal to stay with the franchise he’s played with his entire career. The eight-time All-Star might quite not be the pitcher he was from 2011 to 2014 when he won three NL Cy Young Awards in a four-year stretch, but he’s still been very effective over the past few years and figures to be an important part of the starting rotation.
The left-hander was 10-8 last season with a 3.55 ERA in 22 starts.
Buehler will be the Dodgers’ opening day starter instead of Kershaw. But the left-hander said there are no hard feelings at all.
“He deserves it,” Kershaw said. “You pitch well the season before, you deserve it. He’s done it a couple years now. I don’t know if happy is the right word, but I’m proud of him. He’s done a lot of great things.”
PUJOLS, CARDS REUNITE
With a wave of his hand and a tip of the cap, Albert Pujols walked back into the world of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Wearing a big smile and his familiar red No. 5 jersey, Pujols emerged from beyond the right field wall at Roger Dean Stadium between the first and second innings of a game against Houston on Monday.
All these years later, the slugger who helped the Cardinals win two World Series championship was home.
The Cardinals and Pujols have reached agreement on a one-year contract valued at $2.5 million, giving him a chance to end his career in the place where it started.
The 42-year-old Pujols spent part of Monday video conferencing with veteran St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina. The two spent eight years as teammates in St. Louis.
“I’m happy for him to be here,” Molina said. “It’s going to be a fun year.”
Pujols played the first 11 years of his career in St. Louis, teaming with Molina to lead the Cardinals to the 2006 and 2011 World Series titles.
PADRES ADD BEATY
The Padres and Dodgers made a rare intra-division swap on Monday when San Diego acquired Matt Beaty in a trade for minor leaguer River Ryan. Beaty was designated for assignment by the Dodgers last week.
The 28-year-old Beaty has been a solid hitter for the Dodgers the past three seasons but struggled to find consistent playing time in a loaded lineup. He hit .270 with a .363 on-base percentage last season, hitting seven homers and driving in 40 runs.
Beaty could be a candidate to start in left field for the Padres, though he could also fill the utility role is was so good at with the Dodgers.
AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson and AP freelance writer Chuck King contributed to this story.
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