Dodgers are hopeful Tyler Glasnow can be an ace. But first, he'll have to stay healthy

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For a pitcher who just signed a nine-figure contract extension, who has been mentioned as one of the best natural talents in baseball, and who figures to be one of the key cogs for this season’s Dodgers team, Tyler Glasnow’s personal goals for 2024 might seem rather modest.

“I just wanna stay healthy this year,” the long-haired, long-limbed and oft-injured right-hander said at the start of spring training this week. “And make all my starts.”

The Dodgers, of course, are expecting much more from the new co-ace of their remade rotation.

They dealt a sizable trade package to the Tampa Bay Rays to acquire Glasnow this offseason — giving up highly touted pitching prospect Ryan Pepiot and outfield prospect Jonny DeLuca — in hopes the 30-year-old flamethrower could fill the club’s void of true front-line pitching talent.

They extended Glasnow on a five-year, $136.5-million contract — the most guaranteed money a Dodgers pitcher had received under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, until Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s MLB-record signing a week later — with the idea the Southland native could help carry the pitching staff for a half-decade to come.

“When he makes his throw, there’s a lot of conviction,” manager Dave Roberts said. “His ball has a lot of carry in the strike zone. And when you’re talking about an upper-90s fastball that’s thrown with conviction through the catcher, it makes it pretty special.”

Before such lofty expectations can be met, however, Glasnow will have to hit a few more basic objectives first.

Get through the rest of this spring training healthy. Manage what could be the first true full-season workload of his career. And consistently showcase his potential over a 162-game season , avoiding the kind of injury-related speed bumps and detours that have limited him to only two campaigns of 100 or more innings out of his eight MLB seasons.

“We feel like the arrow is really pointing up and that, over the next few years, he is really going to take on a lot of starts,” Friedman said of Glasnow last week. “The work ethic is there. We spent a lot of time digging into that. And that’s a bet we’re making.”

Whether that gamble pays off or not could have far-reaching impacts for the Dodgers.

The last two years, the team lacked a consistent ace to stabilize an often-times patchwork rotation.

Walker Buehler was supposed to be the guy in 2022, before blowing out his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery. Julio Urías was primed for the role last year, only to underperform through the summer before missing the stretch run following an arrest for suspicion of domestic violence in September. Clayton Kershaw tried to step up in their absences, but dealt with his own physical limitations before having a shoulder surgery this past offseason.

That’s why, outside of the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, the Dodgers viewed the rotation as their No. 1 priority this winter.

Yamamoto, the Japanese league star who signed for $325 million, ended up being their splashiest free-agent addition. But, as he eases into his transition to MLB, it’s Glasnow who might be the biggest factor in the Dodgers’ near-term success.

“He’s in a good spot right now,” Roberts said after watching one of Glasnow’s first bullpens of the spring this week. “We just want him to be himself.”

Glasnow has rarely been able to showcase his true self over extended stretches on the mound.

A former fifth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Hart High in Santa Clarita, Glasnow has dealt with injuries at almost every turn of his journey in the big leagues.

After his second outing as a rookie in 2016, he went on the injured list with a shoulder injury. After being dealt in 2018 to the Rays, who made the then-swingman reliever a full-time starter, Glasnow dealt with a litany of elbow and forearm problems — all of which culminated with Tommy John surgery in 2021.

Even last year, as Glasnow set career highs in starts (21), innings (120) and strikeouts (162), he missed two months with an oblique injury and another week with back spasms.

As a result, Glasnow has never been to an All-Star Game, despite a highly touted pitching arsenal that pairs his power fastball with a hard slider and wipeout curveball. He has never received Cy Young votes, even though he has the 11th-best ERA among MLB pitchers since 2019 (minimum 300 innings). And he’s hardly even experienced a half-season of uninterrupted play, having never made more than 14 consecutive outings in a single campaign without suffering an injury.

“I think sometimes with medical histories, there’s usually breadcrumbs of what was going on, what happened,” Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior said. “I think, in his situation, it sounds like there was some stuff that always persistently lingered.”

This year, the Dodgers are hoping Glasnow will turn a corner.

Most of Glasnow’s past ailments, both he and Dodgers officials believe, were either related to his now surgically repaired elbow, or were “freakish” issues, as Friedman described them, that the team feels confident won’t pop up again.

“We feel like he is going to hold up and he’s going to be a big part of what we do,” Friedman said.

“I think it’s probably safe to say if we didn’t feel optimistic,” Prior added, “that we wouldn’t have done it.”

Glasnow also indicated he is in a better place physically than he has been in years past, noting that ever since his elbow healed, “everything was good and I feel really good right now.”

Indeed, instead of a rehabilitation or recovery program this spring, the 6-foot-8 hurler has been working with Dodgers coaches to refine his mechanics and hone in on specific “feels” with his pitches — a key process for a veteran that Roberts described as “thoughtful” and “cerebral” with his delivery.

During a bullpen session last week, Glasnow and Prior spent several minutes talking through the pitcher’s delivery on the mound; covering everything from Glasnow’s release point (as Glasnow would mimic slow-motion throws, Prior would position his hand in the optimal spot) to his footwork (“For a bigger, taller guy, he moves really well,” Prior noted) to his plan for using different pitches to attack the strike zone.

“A lot of these first weeks, especially with new guys, it’s just a lot of questions and probing, trying to get an understanding of how they interpret things,” Prior said. “We definitely have some thoughts. But I think our first thing is always to try to draw out of them how they want to go about the process and what they internalize.”

Once the season starts, Glasnow and the Dodgers will have to hit the ground running.

Yamamoto won’t be immediately rushed into a standard every-five-days starting schedule, needing time to adjust from his once-per-week schedule in Japan. Buehler isn’t expected to be ready in time for opening day, and will probably face workload restrictions after his expected return early in the year. Another new signing, James Paxton, has his own history of injuries that might prompt the Dodgers to give him extra rest.

While it doesn’t necessarily mean Glasnow will be asked to shoulder a greater share of the pitching workload early in the year — Roberts noted that the club remains “mindful” of the fact Glasnow hasn’t pitched a full season before — it will likely position him as the rotation’s anchor in the early going, if not its leading ace for much of the season.

“For Glass,” Friedman said, referencing an unintentionally ironic nickname for a pitcher who has too often seemed made of it, “I think he’s good to go however the schedule shakes out.”

“The body, the work ethic, the stuff we feel like is going to hold up,” Friedman added. “He’s going to be a big part of what we do.”

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