Dodgers face their biggest pitching decision of season
By Cary Osborne
There were roughly 10 minutes between the end of the Dodgers’ 8-3 loss to the Nationals in Game 3 of the National League Division Series and Dave Roberts’ arrival in the interview room at Dodger Stadium.
The second question he was asked was about his Game 4 starter. He didn’t name one.
Whomever he goes with — the ace Clayton Kershaw on three days’ rest, or the rookie Julio Urías — will have a domino effect on the entire pitching staff.
Kershaw going on three days’ rest in the postseason would be nothing new for him. He’s done in each of the last three postseasons and has gone at least six innings each time. The leash is long for the big dog.
Not so much for Urías, whose longest start this season was six innings (three times — the last being August 27). Throw in the fact that he’s at 122 innings this season, 34 1/3 more than he has pitched in any professional season, and the Dodgers have another quandary — especially if they win this series and need him in following series.
Roberts threw out one psychological aspect to the choice.
“You look at Julio at home, but you look at Kershaw on short rest at home, so as an organization we have to figure out what gives us the best chance tomorrow,” Roberts said.
You’d think home would be a place of more comfort for a rookie, and a veteran like Kershaw, who’s won his last two postseason games on the road, is better suited for a hostile environment.
While there’s no Game 5 if the Dodgers don’t win Game 4, there’s no National League Championship Series either way if the Dodgers don’t win both games.
The bullpen is a significant aspect to the decision. Five relievers have pitched on back-to-back days, including long man Ross Stripling.
The Saturday rainout and Kenta Maeda’s short outing on Monday — three innings — have created a challenge for the Dodgers going forward.
Here’s the bullpen’s usage the last two days:
But it’s all hands on deck, Roberts said, for Tuesday’s Game 4.
“Regardless of who the starter is, this is an elimination game,” Roberts said.
Baez went three days in a row twice this year and Avilan did it once.
“We’ve been used a lot this year. It’s nothing new,” Grant Dayton said. “It looks like it’s going to be back-to-back-to-back now, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The whole organization has done a great job at keeping us prepared. We’re healthy. We’re strong. We’re ready to go. It’s not new for a lot of us. I’m not sure if I’ve gone three days in a row before, but I feel healthy and most guys do, so I’ll be fine.”
Joked Stripling who had Tommy John surgery in 2014: “(My elbow’s) now made of something fake, so I should be able to go.”
The Game 4 starter decision has one other impact — Rich Hill, who the Dodgers want to avoid going with on three days’ rest. If he starts in Game 5, it would be three days.
“I talked to Rich today. With no certainty I know he’s open to the idea of going on short rest, but it’s something he hasn’t done (recently),” Roberts said. “It’s a conversation, but I know that with him there will be more conversations with the training staff to figure out that finger. It’s not an arm thing with Rich. It’s more of how we’re going to manage that blister. But he is open to that (idea).”