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Handicapping the Dodgers' starting rotation

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX -- Zach Lee and Julio Urias were the latest to put their best feet forward, each pitching decently well on Wednesday against the Rockies and staking their claim to one of the vacant spots in the Dodgers starting rotation. With under three weeks before opening day, here is my view of where that competition stands.

The top three are unchanged in my view, with Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda following Clayton Kershaw in the rotation. Kazmir has not looked good at all this spring, but gets the veteran pass of just working on things. The talk in recent days of Kazmir sitting only in the mid- to high-80s in his fastball has been a little overblown, especially with three more starts before the regular season.

As manager Dave Roberts put it with Kazmir on Monday, "There's definitely no concern right now, and he knows the adjustments he needs to make."

Alex Wood, who was scratched with left forearm soreness on Saturday, gets the call to start on Thursday against the Royals. He likely has one of the two open rotation spots almost by default, given his major league track record and relative health. If he remains healthy, he's the No. 4 starter, in my view.

Mike Bolsinger has the edge thus far on the other rotation spot, with a combination of health, his 21 starts made last year, and how he has looked so far this spring.

Brandon Beachy is probably next in line. He's not on the 40-man roster but that is easily fixable, and once he's back on it, he can be optioned to the minors if needed.

Lee pitched three scoreless innings on Wednesday before allowing a run without recording an out in the fourth. He remains in the mix as well.

Of the two top prospects, Jose De Leon seems more likely to me than Julio Urias to start at some point in April, thanks to a combination of being slightly ahead of him in building up arm strength this spring and from De Leon having a larger number of innings in 2015. Urias allowed a run in his two innings on Wednesday.

Ross Stripling, who will also pitch at some point on Thursday, also remains in the mix, but perhaps less so than the trio of Bolsinger, Beachy and Lee.

But if we're talking about just one open rotation spot or two, that doesn't mean just one pitcher would take each open spot.

"Ideally you'd have one guy," Roberts said. "With the off days, who we're playing and how that guy is pitching, that would help our decision."

The Dodgers are off on April 11 and April 18. After needing the fifth starter the first time through the rotation, on April 8, the club can send that pitcher down to the minors and call up an extra player - either an extra relief pitcher or an extra position player - for a six-game stretch before needing another fifth starter on April 16, their 12th game of the season.

The April 18 off day means they could repeat the process again, depending on whether they want to give rest to the remainder of the rotation.

With two more days on May 2 and May 5, the Dodgers could choose to use a fifth starter just four times in the first 32 games of the season.  The flip side of that is riding the other starters pretty hard. In that scenario, for instance, Kershaw would not get any extra rest during that span, something the Dodgers have tried to do in recent years when presented with off days.

"Those are discussions we will definitely be having," Roberts said. "You can argue both sides of it."

Most importantly, when thinking of the active roster, remember that there is so much more than just the opening day roster. It is fluid and pliable throughout the season. In other words, the answer to, "Who is the Dodgers fifth starter?" just might be several pitchers.

Notes

Carl Crawford has been dealing with back soreness and that's why he hasn't played since Saturday. Roberts said Crawford is expected to start on Thursday against the Royals.

Wood starts for the Dodgers on Thursday against the Royals, which will be available on radio.