The Dodgers prioritized depth over starpower in the offseason, and that depth is being tested early on.
Remember a few weeks ago, when there were questions about how the Dodgers could possibly choose between eight candidates for five rotation spots? Those were the good days. Let’s go back to those days.
Enter a slowly-recovering shoulder, a slipped disc, an oblique and a sore forearm, and the Dodgers had to start Jeremy Kehrt in a Spring Training game. Granted, it was a split squad game and Kehrt had a great first inning before everything fell apart in the second, but the Dodgers’ pitching depth is already being tested.
We should all still appreciate the depth they’ve put together. No other team in baseball could handle this many injuries and still have the luxury to keep their two top pitching prospects in the minors. Other teams would be forced to promote a pitcher that isn’t ready or to rush Hyun-jin Ryu back from his injury. Somehow, despite five injured rotation-caliber arms, the Dodgers can still put together a quality rotation.
Clayton Kershaw is still Kershaw and he’s the last person we need to worry about. He’s looked just fine in the Spring and we’re not even going to entertain the possibility of him getting injured. nope. nope.
Going off Alanna Rizzo’s tweet from last week. Scott Kazmir would be the number two. He struggled early in the Spring and his declining velocity worried some, but he looked much more sharp in his last outing and should keep improving with more innings in his arm. Kenta Maeda would be the number three, and he’s looked absolutely incredible this Spring. Spring results are usually pointless, but Maeda has been dominant in his first few starts with the Dodgers. His pinpoint control and delivery should give him at least moderate success at the big league level. Alex Wood has potential and was a legit number two starter in his first two seasons with the Braves, but struggled since coming over to the Dodgers and hasn’t looked great in the Spring (only five innings though).
The fifth spot is still a huge question mark. Mike Bolsinger figured to have the inside track, but was scratched from his last start with an oblique. The severity of the injury is unknown, but obliques have a tendency to linger for a bit so his status for the first fifth-starter spot on the schedule (April 8th) might be in jeopardy. Brandon Beachy was reportedly lifted from his last start with forearm tightness. Zach Lee was optioned before these two injuries, but now figures to be the best option if Bolsinger isn’t ready to go. Carlos Frias could also be an option and probably has more upside than Lee, but also has a lot bigger chance at imploding.
Off days in April will give the Dodgers the luxury to skip a spot in the rotation and still throw everyone else on five days rest, meaning a fifth starter won’t be absolutely vital early on. Getting Kershaw and Maeda extra days of rest early on could pay dividends later on in the season, but the Dodgers will have Bolsinger and Beachy ready in April most likely, Ryu in May or June, Brandon McCarthy sometime around July and Brett Anderson towards the end of the season. They’ll have a nice reinforcement coming back in almost every month.
Overall, the Dodgers will probably be fine. They’re built to sustain some injuries at most positions, and starting pitching is one of their largest areas of depth. They had 16 pitchers start games last year, and decided to load up on pitchers rather than pay a one guy for the next six years. They still have a few options before they’re forced to start the clock on a top prospect, so given all the injuries they’ve faced, they could not be in a better position. Obviously, it would be nice if no one got hurt and the Dodgers could just start their top-five guys every night, but this team is much better equipped to handle injuries to five pitchers than other teams are.
What started as a competition for the fifth starter spot turned into a last man standing scenario, but the Dodgers can still handle it. If they lose another pitcher, things become a lot more bleak. These pitcher injuries are also sort of overshadowing position-player injuries, as leadoff hitter Andre Ethier is on crutches after fouling a ball of his leg and Yasmani Grandal left yesterday’s game with forearm soreness.
The Dodgers’ unmatchable depth has been written about constantly this offseason, and it’s being pushed to the limits early on. It’s extremely frustrating and seems like a joke at times, but the Dodgers are being wise in not rushing Ryu back from injury or throwing a kid that isn’t ready yet into the fire. The extent of Beachy and Bolsinger’s injuries are still unknown, but even if they miss time, the Dodgers should have a half-decent option to fill in.