Dodgers feel no pain with strong close to the first half

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers reported no new injuries in their first-half finale Sunday, perhaps starting a trend toward a happier and definitely healthier second half.

Injuries have been the theme of the 2016 season so far, from Andre Ethier's broken leg to Brett Anderson's arthroscopic back surgery, Alex Wood's sore elbow and Clayton Kershaw's mild disc herniation in his lower back. That doesn't even account for Joc Pederson's sore shoulder.

The news Sunday was that Kershaw will not be ready immediately after his 15-day stint on the disabled list ends later this week but could return soon after.

Perhaps it was symbolic that Kenta Maeda was the one to pitch the Dodgers to a 3-1 victory over the San Diego Padres in the first-half sendoff. After a start to the season of mostly highs and minimal lows, Maeda sent the Dodgers charging into the break with a dominant seven-inning outing in which he gave up only two hits and struck out a career-best 13.

Maeda was the one who actually had the questionable physical in the offseason, enough so that his free-agent contract was restructured into an incentive-based pact. In fact, when Maeda went over the 100-inning mark for the season during Sunday's outing, it triggered a $250,000 bonus. Fit as can be, and strong as a horse, Maeda has been a bright spot for the Dodgers this season, going 8-6 with a 2.95 ERA.

"I've been able to experience both a good stretch and a bad stretch, so I think it was, overall, a very productive half-season," Maeda said through an interpreter.

Yet, for as sparkling as Maeda's credentials were when he arrived in Los Angeles, a sub-3.00 ERA through 18 starts was not so easily predicted. His success, though, is one of the major reasons the Dodgers have been able to scramble back from some inconsistent play to forge a 51-40 record heading into the All-Star break.

"It's only half a season and I really have been supported well by my teammates, the coaching staff and everybody here in the Dodgers organization," Maeda said when asked how he has been able to adjust to a new league and cultural differences in his new home.

As if all the changes weren't enough, Maeda has managed to overcome painful comebackers to his lower leg and right hand in separate games. In doing so, he avoided joining the team's long injury list.

The injury bug bit early and often once the club arrived at Arizona for spring training. The Dodgers opened the season with 10 players on the disabled list, and although records on the matter are not well kept, it was believed to be the most for a club on Opening Day in a good long time, if not ever.

Once the season started the issues continued. Wood went down, Trayce Thompson played through a sore back, Yimi Garcia was lost. But the biggest blows were yet to come: Kershaw and Pederson both went on the disabled list on July 1.

Of all the injuries, Kershaw's was no doubt the biggest of all. Manager Dave Roberts, though, is known for his positive spin on things, and he managed to cast an uplifting light on his band of walking wounded.

"You know what, actually in light of all the injuries, I think that [the situation] got better," Roberts said. "There are guys that we had a chance to see that we might not have seen. To see Ross Stripling, to see Brock Stewart, to see Julio [Urias] up here, there are guys who have had opportunities. When you talk about the injury to [Ethier], you get to see Trayce Thompson. So I think when you look at that, do we want that? Are we happy about that? No. But there have been some good things that have come with it."

When the Dodgers limped home from their last road trip of the first half, Kershaw's injury had just been diagnosed. What was building as a season-long 10-game homestand to gain momentum, suddenly turned into approaching doom and gloom.

The Dodgers, though, managed to pick up their game, led by a stingy bullpen and a surprisingly solid rotation, even without one of the best pitchers in baseball. Sunday's victory gave the Dodgers a 7-3 record on the homestand, including the 3-1 series victory over the Padres.

"It's been great and obviously adding a couple of new pitchers, [Brandon McCarthy] coming back and [Hyun-Jin] Ryu coming back, obviously that's going to be huge in the second half," said the red-hot Yasmani Grandal, who had eight hits in the final three games of the San Diego series. "Obviously we will have Kersh back in the second half as well.

"The rotation is just getting even better. Our bullpen has obviously been great and our offense is taking off. We're hitting the ball hard, we're scoring runs when we need them and when we don't, then we have the pitching there that has been doing great so far."

This year's 51-40 record at the break is similar to last year's 51-39 mark. The difference is that while the Dodgers were in first place with a 4½-game lead at this time last year, the San Francisco Giants' strong first half has them leading by a comfortable margin in the National League West.

But instead of seeing the gap between them and the division leader, the Dodgers are grooving on their own momentum right now.

"I think for our guys, it was just staying focused on winning each game [in the first half] and not concerning ourselves with players that are hurt, what people are saying about us and it's about the guys that are with us, the coaches, and trying to get better every day," Roberts said. "There were a couple of stretches in there where we could have gone the other way, but guys in that room are very accountable to each other. That's the thing that is most encouraging for me and the coaches. But there is always room for growth."

While the schedule typically offers a top-heavy first half, Grandal's goal for the second half is to match it. Perhaps, with the roster starting to look like the one that was envisioned when the team was put together in the offseason, there is reason to be so optimistic.

"We're 11 games over .500 and we want to win another 51 games in the second half," Grandal said. "That's 102 games in a year, so that seems like a pretty good mark."