Dodgers @ Pirates April 25, 2023: Series opener against the first-place Pirates

Michael Busch (Photo: Cody Bashore)

The Dodgers, winners of two straight and three of their past four games (around a near perfect game for Drew Smyly), begin a three-game stretch in Pittsburgh this afternoon. The Pirates (16-7) are currently atop the National League and are a half-game ahead of Baltimore for the second-best record in baseball behind the Tampa Rays.

Pittsburgh has won seven straight, sweeping the Reds at home and the Rockies on the road, last week. The Pirates last loss came on April 16 in extra innings against the Cardinals, with the Pittsburgh 5-2 against Cincinnati, 3-0 against Colorado, 2-2 against St. Louis and 2-1 against the White Sox this season. Those four teams are among the leagues bottom eight, all with win percentages below .400, with the Pirates also sweeping the .500 Red Sox and dropping two of three to the 12-11 Astros.

Those final two teams are right where the Dodgers stand in the league through 23 games, as Los Angeles enters Tuesday at 12-11 and a half game behind the D-backs for first place as well as a half-game ahead of the third-place Padres.

Noah Syndergaard will start his fifth game of the season for the Dodgers with the Pirates sending out 25-year-old right hander Johan Oviedo for his second appearance and first start against Los Angeles.

Image Image
3:35 PM Pittsburgh
SS Betts 3B Hayes
1B Freeman (L) 2B Marcano (L)
RF Heyward (L) DH McCutchen
CF Outman (L) 1B Santana (S)
2B Vargas LF Suwinski (L)
LF Peralta (L) RF Joe
DH Busch (L) SS Castro (S)
3B Taylor CF Hwan Bae (L)
C Barnes C Hedges
P Syndergaard (R) P Oviedo (R)

Well, it feels like that lineup deserves a little more context as it is quite the sight (again).

First, a roster update as Max Muncy is on the paternity list with Michael Busch taking his roster spot for now. This news was out yesterday, but now confirmed with Busch making his major league debut as the Dodgers’ designated hitter and Chris Taylor at third for Muncy. J.D. Martinez is on the bench for the first time this season after starting all 23 games at DH in 2023, where he joins Austin Wynns, Luke Williams and Trayce Thompson as he deals with some back soreness.

That removes a .389/.593/1.222/1.815 line over the past week where Muncy won the NL Player of the Week, while Martinez is 3-for-18 with three walks, a homer and two doubles since going 4-for-5 with a pair of home runs against the Mets back on April 18.

Mookie Betts gets career start No. 2 at shortstop, Jason Heyward is batting third for the first time since September 2020 and James Outman is in the cleanup spot for the first time in his career. Also, that’s three rookies in the lineup for the Dodgers which I assume has at least been a few years since that last happened.

On the other side, Bryan Reynolds is currently on the bereavement list while Ji Man Choi and Oneil Cruz are both on the 60-day IL. That’s led to the 36-year-old Andrew McCutchen playing just about every day and producing an .888 OPS in his return to Pittsburgh, Ji Hwan Bae in the outfield as he moved around the field and a variety of players at second base as Rodolfo Castro shifted to shortstop.

Connor Joe, who was briefly in the Dodgers’ organization in 2018 and 2019 after being traded to Los Angeles for international bonus money before being taken in the Rule 5 Draft and then returned, holds a 1.097 OPS in 66 PAs this season. Jack Suwinski‘s 1.022 OPS in 60 PAs is behind only Joe, with McCutchen behind them.


Oviedo faced the Dodgers briefly in 2022 as a member of the Cardinals. Entering in the 2nd inning after Jordan Hicks served as the opener last July, Oviedo allowed one run on two hits in his 1 1/3 innings of work.

After ending the 2nd inning on a foul out by Austin Barnes, Oviedo struck out Betts in the 3rd. An infield single by Trea Turner and a double by Freddie Freeman brought home the lone run. A few weeks later, Oviedo was sent to Pittsburgh in a deal for José Quintana and Chris Stratton. After primarily pitching in relief for the Cardinals, Oviedo moved to the rotation for Pittsburgh last September and finished with a 3.23 ERA across 30 2/3 innings for his new team. On the bubble for a rotation spot this spring, Oviedo landed a one after JT Brubaker landed on the IL and eventually needed Tommy John surgery.

Since then, Ovideo’s proven he belonged in the rotation as he has struck out 25 in 24 1/3 innings with a 2.22 ERA through his four starts. Throwing his slider more overall than his fastball for the first time in his major league career, Ovideo has been tough on right-handed batters so far this season. A .190/.292/.214/.506 for righties trails his .235/.259/.431/.690 to lefties with a pretty even split in batters faced this season. That’s a switch from 2022, when it was .195/.307/.253/.560 to lefties and .248/.312/.403/.715 to right-handed batters.

Sitting at 50.0% slider (89.1 mph), 29.8 fastball (96.3 mph) and 15.5% curve (80.7 mph) to right-handed batters and 33.9% fastball, 31.3% slider and 27.1% curve to lefties, Oviedo has dropped his fastball usage to batters on both sides of the plate with the slider and curve bumped up. Both pitches have seen a bump in velocity, with the slider going from around 85 to 86 mph for three years to 89 mph while the curve went from 77 to 78 mph up to 80 this season. Both pitches are now moving less with a lower spin rate, which has led to the best xWOBA for both pitches in his career so far. Ovideo’s fastball is at its highest xWOBA in his career, but much of that came from his season debut where the Red Sox connected for a pair of home runs off the fastball

Since allowing five runs (four earned) in 4 2/3 innings to open the season, Ovideo has allowed just two in 19 2/3 innings with 21 strikeouts to four walks in games against the White Sox, Cardinals and Rockies.


As for Syndergaard, he struck out just two batters in 6 innings against the Mets in his last time out but did allow just five hits and two walks while limiting New York to pretty weak contact. Just three balls in play were harder than 94 mph, though that included the left-handed Brandon Nimmo‘s two-run home run agaainst a changeup for the only runs charged to Syndergaard.

Syndergaard has been going to the change up more often as his starts go on, and has been specifically effective against right-handed batters (.206 xWOBA in 18 PAs) while being paired with/set up by his cutter (.144 xWOBA in 6 PAs).

This pitch combo has worked against right-handed batters (.206/.250/.324/.574) much better than lefties (.302/.351/.585/1.287), with a drastic difference in exit velocity between the two sides so far. To righties, Syndergaard’s exit velocities have been 78.0 for the cutter, 79.2 for the sinker and 80.5 for the changeup with it 82.6 for the sinker, 84.9 for his fastball, 90.0 against the cutter and 93.0 against the changeup for lefties.

How he approaches the three left-handers and two switch hitters in today’s lineup will be interesting once again because it really seems like they haven’t figured out how to have him consistently get lefties out with this pitch selection yet. The changup has struck out seven left-handed batters but also allowed eight hits the 16 times it has been put into play.


There’s plenty of roster news ahead of the first game this week, led by Tony Gonsolin‘s return to the rotation tomorrow afternoon.

In addition to Muncy, Brusdar Graterol is also on the paternity list with Evan Phillips back with the team.

Just for the sake of resetting who is available in the bullpen, Phillips joins Yency Almonte, Phil Bickford, Justin Bruihl, Caleb Ferguson, Victor Gonzalez, Andre Jackson, Shelby Miller and Alex Vesia. Two of those will be sent back to Triple-A for Gonsolin and Graterol, with Gonzalez the most recent promotion after Bruihl took Jackson’s roster spot last week before all the roster changes began. That includes Jake Reed who is already back with Triple-A OKC after being designated for assignment a day after he was added to the 40-man roster for Phillips’ paternity leave.

Now that the pitching is getting straightened out, a few others may return soonish as well in the field.


First pitch from PNC Park is scheduled for 3:35 p.m. PT on SportsNet LA.

About Cody Bashore

Cody Bashore is a lifelong Dodger fan originally from Carpinteria, California (about 80 miles north of Dodger Stadium along the coast). He left California to attend Northern Arizona University in 2011, and has lived in Arizona full-time since he graduated in 2014 with a journalism degree.