So far this season, starting pitching has been one of the Dodgers’ greatest strengths.
They have a top 10 ERA from their starters. They have several established stars putting together all-star campaigns.
During their recent three-week turnaround, in which they went from a club with under-500 to the highest-ranking record in the National League, consistency of rotation was one of the Dodgers’ biggest keys, a long-standing hallmark that the franchise is re-emerging.
But following Dustin May’s forearm injury on Wednesday, a flexor muscle strain that will sideline him for at least five to six weeks, the club’s initial pitching depth is now under scrutiny.
After deciding to look to young pitchers as rotational alternatives early in the season, the Dodgers’ ability to deal with adversity on the mound faces its first real test.
“Dustin is a big void,” said manager Dave Roberts. “But I think what we’ve done really well over the years is that when something unforeseen like this happens, we keep pushing forward. Boys, climb up.”
Gavin Stone will likely be the first pitcher to close the gap. Roberts said Thursday that it “makes the most sense” for the rookie contender to fill in for May on short notice.
In addition, however, the Dodgers are suddenly missing other proven substitutes.
Bobby Miller, the team’s highest-ranked junior pitcher, isn’t ready for his first pitch, Roberts said. The right-hander’s start to the season was delayed by shoulder problems and he has a 5.65 ERA in four Triple-A starts this year (although he looked better in a six-inning start and a run against Oklahoma City on Wednesday).
Ryan Pepiot, another right-hander originally slated for the Dodgers’ Game Day 1 rotation, is nowhere near a return from an oblique injury. Pepiot continues to suffer from sore muscles in his team and has reduced his recovery work in Arizona to the flat-ground catch game, delaying his potential return until at least after the All-Star break.
Michael Grove, the young right-hander who struggled in four big-league starts in early April, has recovered from a groin strain and rejoined the team in the Taxi squad on Thursday in St. Louis, but just in case the bullpen after a year additional coverage required heavy workload in the past week.
When you add it all up, the Dodgers lack an excess of healthy, proven, and built forces ready to start a big league game.
Your margin for error is gone.
A potential trap has opened up.
The good news for the Dodgers is that they still have plenty of star power at the top of their rotation.
Clayton Kershaw (6-3, 2.52 ERA) was April’s National League Pitcher of the Month. Julio Urías (5-4, 4.39 ERA) had a misstep in Thursday’s 16-8 loss to St. Louis that gave up four homers. Before that, however, he had only given up five runs in his last three appearances. And Tony Gonsolin (1-1, 1.42 ERA) has regained his All-Star form from last year after being sidelined for several weeks with a sprained ankle.
Combined with May’s strong performance — the right-hander was up 4-1 with a 2.68 ERA before walking out of Wednesday’s start after one inning — the Dodgers starters rank eighth in the majors in the ERA (3rd – 3rd place). .77) and 13th in pitched innings (229 1/3). and third in walks and hits per inning (1.14).
But to effectively compensate for the flame-throwing right-hander, the team needs to get several things right.
Noah Syndergaard, who was shaky as the No. 5-arm rotation while struggling with mental hurdles and a finger blister, is needed to cover more innings and provide more stability after failing in his first eight starts (just the half of them) had a 5.94 ERA that went past the fourth inning).
Stone, who has impressed in the minor leagues but struggled on his May 3 debut with four innings and five runs, will also need to settle in quickly if he actually replaces May starting Monday.
“I think the second time around it’s about Gavin [who replaces May], will be better,” said Roberts. “I’m very excited about the weapons we might get. Maybe I didn’t expect to see her so soon. But we will see.”
Most importantly, the team can hardly afford to suffer another serious starting injury – which is hardly a given for Kershaw and Gonsolin, both of whom have had numerous injury lists in recent seasons.
To that end, Roberts conceded that he will “pull a thread” with the workload of his regulars in the coming weeks.
“There are decisions you have to make, and it comes at a point where you have to decide whether you want to put your team in the best situation to win the game,” Roberts said, “or you want to end the fight for wanting to lose victory in the war.” ”
So far this season, the Dodgers’ starters have given the team a head start in this fight. It remains to be seen if that continues now as injuries mount and depth recedes quickly.