The main pitches thrown from Dodger Stadium mound on Saturday came when the stands were empty and the gates were closed.
Hours before the Dodgers game 6-3 defeat against the New York Yankees injured left-hander Julio Urías made his biggest step yet in his recovery from a hamstring strain. During a roughly 30-pitch bullpen session, the club’s opening day starter showed little limitation, utilizing his entire pitch mix while building an intensity of around 80%.
“He was good today,” said manager Dave Roberts.
If everything goes according to plan, Urías could be back in action as early as next weekend in Philadelphia. Not only would that be his first start in nearly a month, but it presents the ailing Dodgers with a different kind of rotation issue than they’ve faced for most of this season.
Since the beginning of the season, the team has been missing a starter or two.
Tony Gonsolin and Ryan Pepiot suffered injuries in spring training (Gonsolin has since returned from a sprained ankle but Pepiot is still out with an oblique strain).
Last month, Urías and Dustin May’s injuries forced the Dodgers to delve even deeper into their organizational structure, resulting in callups for Bobby Miller and now-optional Gavin Stone.
And another rookie right-hander, Michael Grovefinally returned from a groin strain on Saturday and had to give up four runs in five innings in the Dodgers’ loss to the Yankees — coming off six dominant innings from Gerrit Cole, four homers off her offense and a spectacular eighth-inning catch from Aaron Judge where the reigning American League’s Most Valuable Player went through the bullpen gate in right field.
“Obviously he made some mistakes,” Roberts said of Grove. “But I thought it was really good overall.”
But now, with Urías’ return on the horizon, the Dodgers will have a rare surplus on the mound. By next weekend, the club must select a current rotation member to be replaced by their left-handed ace.
And although no final decision has yet been made, the evaluation process is already in full swing.
“That conversation is going to happen,” Roberts said before the game. “Once we get to that point, we have some decisions to make.”
The most obvious candidates are Grove, Miller and Noah Syndergaard.
Grove showed improved performances on his return on Saturday. His fastball averaged a career-best MLB 96.5 mph after working with the Dodgers’ minor league pitching team during his rehab. His combination of curveballs and sliders, meanwhile, helped him to seven strikeouts and 13 whiffs.
“They didn’t take a lot of good shots against him,” said Roberts, who confirmed Grove will be back at the start in Philadelphia next week. “I think he has a lot of confidence.”
The only problem: Grove gave up two two-run homers to the Yankees left fielder Jake Bauers, hung up a slider in the second inning before throwing a fastball down the middle in the fourth inning. In five MLB starts this year, he has an 8.14 earned run average.
“I made a lot of really good pitches and some bad pitches that I got penalized for,” Grove said. “There is a lot to learn. There is also a lot to be happy about.”
Miller has been an even bigger rookie sensation since making his MLB debut last month. In two starts, he has given up just two runs in 11 innings and has nine strikeouts.
He’ll have another big test on Sunday, scheduled to kick off the series finale against the Yankees on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
But so far, he’s lived up to his hype for a top contender — even after making just eight triple-A starts in his career.
“It’s a big stage,” Roberts said of Miller’s upcoming launch. “I know he can handle it. There will be a little more adrenaline. You see [Giancarlo] Stanton and Judge in the batter’s box. It will bring out the best in Bobby.”
Then there is Syndergaard.
The $13 million offseason signing had a disastrous start to his Dodgers career, posting a 6.54 ERA in his first 11 starts.
On Friday, Roberts confirmed Syndergaard will start next week in Cincinnati as number 12. However, it was bad there and his advantage over the two rookies could all but be wiped out.
“When he gets that start I’m going to feel the same every time as I do every time he conquers the hill,” said an upbeat Roberts on Friday. “That he will pitch well and it will turn.”
It better. Because after struggling through the first few months, the Dodgers will soon finally have the luxury of excessive pitching. And if there isn’t another injury by then, someone will have to make way for Urías to return.
Trayce Thompson is moving to IL
According to Roberts, Trayce Thompson suffered an oblique bend on a controlled swing on Saturday and is likely to be put on the injured list.
“I feel for him,” Roberts said of Thompson, who walked with his pinch-hit racquet and showed improvement after coming off a 39-0 loss last week. “I’m sure he’s really disappointed.”