The Dodgers have a collection of arms who are not definite starters, but also not considered bullpen pitchers. The group consists of Scott Kazmir, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Alex Wood, and Brandon McCarthy.
Looking at their individual performances so far this spring, the Dodgers need to decide who will be coming out of the bullpen or starting games. I’ll make an argument why the Dodger starters may not be the obvious answer you may think.
The first name on the list may incite some discussion. Kazmir is coming back from a hip injury, but his velocity is down by a full 10 MPH. Velocity isn’t everything when it comes to pitching, but it was an important tool for Kazmir when he could hit 93-95 MPH consistently. Last season, the lefty struck out a surprising amount of his opponents on fastballs. Now that his velocity has dropped significantly, it’s hard to see him being nearly as effective. That is why he should come out of the bullpen. His drop in velocity may be an indication that he should be limiting his innings count. Working out of the bullpen could allow him to focus on giving 2 solid innings opposed to 5 mediocre innings to start.
Despite pitching one game in two years, Ryu is the most likely to earn a starter spot from this list. He’s impressed in two outings so far this spring. The South Korean southpaw’s held opponents to one run in five innings of work. He’s also struck out six, and walked just one. His fastball command is getting better, and his change up looks as good as it was in his stellar rookie season. The question remains if he can last five or six innings every five days. If Ryu can maintain his health and his durability, the Dodgers will have a strong first four in their rotation. He may need to be eased into his role with extended spring training, but I won’t be surprised to see Ryu in the rotation later in the season.
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Alex Wood was relegated to a long-relief bullpen role after he consistently struggled to go five innings as a starter. Injury woes didn’t help his cause either, but he is having a decent spring which may see him slotted back into the starting rotation. He started spring training from the bullpen, but after four innings of solid relief work, he’s moved to a starter his last two games.
As a starter, he’s gone 7.1 innings allowing just two runs on five hits, while striking out ten. Though this would be an impressive single start, these are stats from two separate outings. The longest he’s gone so far is 4.1 innings. So, whether he could solve his original problem of going five seems to be the only question mark. Right now, I think Wood has shown enough to be a serious contender for the fourth and fifth rotation spot. Pairing that with the injury concerns with Ryu and Kazmir, I think Wood is almost a guarantee to make the opening day rotation.
Swapping Alex Wood with Brandon McCarthy in the rotation may not be to McCarthy’s liking. Moving to the bullpen may save his career like it did for Joe Blanton. By avoiding pitching for multiple innings every five days he may reduce his risk of injury. McCarthy has shown flashes of dominance but usually, erupts in an inning which inflates his E.R.A.
Although McCarthy is known as a starting pitcher, he has experience in relief. His experience is not pretty, giving up 49 runs on 16 home runs in 86 innings. Still, there is a low risk and high return by trying him in the bullpen. If he succeeds, the Dodgers will have another vital piece to a solid bullpen. If it doesn’t, it’s only April and McCarthy can return to the starting rotation as a spot starter later in the season.
The Dodgers have the luxury of rotating pitchers between the rotation and the bullpen. With that, comes difficult decisions who will come out of the bullpen and who will start the game on a clean mound. A pitcher’s mentality should also be accounted for as it’s not easy to switch from being a starter to a reliever and Vise Versa.
Looking at the performances by the four pitchers mentioned, it seems clear who should start where when the season begins. Of course, all this can change if the Dodgers decide to let Julio Urias start the season in the big-league rotation.