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NLDS Game 4 decision on whether to start Clayton Kershaw on short rest looms

Kershaw has started in Game 4 of the NLDS on shorts rest for three consecutive seasons.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Should their National League Division Series against the Nationals last beyond a sweep, the Dodgers will send a left-handed pitcher to the mound to start Game 4. We just don’t know yet, officially, if it will be Clayton Kershaw or Julio Urias.

It’s not something we definitely need to know now anyway. There is still the matter of Kershaw making his start on Friday, and see how he comes out of that.

"With Clayton he's gone on short rest. We know he's going to start Game 1, and after that we'll decide going forward," manager Dave Roberts said on Tuesday. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

In each of the previous three seasons, Kershaw has started Game 4 of the NLDS on three days rest, and has done well. He has three quality starts, allowing six total runs (four earned) in 19 innings, with 23 strikeouts and four walks.

"I think it's pretty unique to the specific pitcher, and you really have to be around the guy in question to get a sense of how they recover and what risk you're possibly introducing," Friedman said Tuesday. "Kersh has obviously done it, and the way he's pitched, the way he's bounced back, he does everything he possibly can in the offseason and during the season to put himself in a position to do it."

The pattern has been pretty clear in each of the last three years. The Dodgers have at first remained noncommittal on Kershaw in Game 4 on short rest, something he has never done in the regular season. In 2013 and 2014, the club even went to far as to name a fourth starter — Ricky Nolasco in 2013, and Dan Haren in 2014. Then inevitably, Kershaw was eventually named the starter for Game 4.

The option is especially attractive during the division series, because with the off days the Game 2 starter — in this case, Rich Hill -- is able to come back on full four days rest to start Game 5 if needed.

But this year has been anything but normal for Kershaw, and how you interpret his chances of starting Game 4 probably depends on how you view his 10-week stint on the disabled list with a herniated disc in his back.

On one hand, Kershaw has made just five starts since returning from the disabled list, and anything that messes with his normal meticulous between-starts routine could be even more damaging to his back.

One the other hand, Kershaw has looked great since his return, with a 1.29 ERA to go with 27 strikeouts and just two walks in 28 innings, including seven innings in each of his last two outings. And that time on the DL means Kershaw is only at 152 total innings pitched in 2016, 50 innings fewer than any year from 2009-2015.

"He feels good, and feels strong. I told Clayton lets just through Game 1 and we'll revisit," Roberts said. "He's used to throwing 220 innings, and his arm usage is definitely less this season."

Should this year be different, and if the Dodgers buck the trend, Urias is a nice fallback option to have. The now-20-year-old left-hander held his own in his age-19 season, putting up a 3.39 ERA and 3.17 FIP in 77 innings.

Urias is at 122 innings between the majors and minors in 2016, 42 more than he threw in 2015. Friedman said the Dodgers would play it by ear with Urias, seeing where he is at after each round to determine his availability.

Urias faced the Nationals in two starts in 2016, allowing three runs in nine total innings, with 10 strikeouts and a walk.