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Dodgers starting rotation reaching critical point

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LA starters have a 6.25 ERA in August

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Los Angeles Dodgers
Brett Anderson makes his second start of 2016 on Saturday.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

If this Dodgers season has taught us anything, it is to never plan too far ahead, especially regarding the starting rotation. But weekend optimism surrounding Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw is hard to ignore.

Hill threw a 75-pitch simulated game on Thursday night at Camelback Ranch in Arizona, showing no ill effects from the blisters on his left hand that has effectively kept him sidelined since July 7.

“Everything felt great,” Hill said Friday in Cincinnati, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. “The ball came out really good, the velocity maintained, breaking ball was really sharp.”

Hill told Plunkett and others he feels ready to pitch on Wednesday, the middle game against the Giants at Dodger Stadium.

Kershaw won’t be ready by then, but he took an important step toward an eventual return on Friday, throwing off flat ground at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. That sets him up for more in the coming days, including on Saturday. Per Cody Pace of MLB.com:

Kershaw's bullpen will consist of between 20 and 25 pitches. Assuming everything goes well, he'll throw a 40-pitch bullpen in Los Angeles on Tuesday. From there, he could move on to live hitters, although manager Dave Roberts opted not to commit to too much, wanting to see how Kershaw's back responds.

"I think that for us, let's get past the 20 to 25 and then we've got the 40-pitch 'pen and see where we're at," Roberts said.

The Dodgers are 26-18 (.591) since Kershaw last pitched, on June 26, and after Saturday’s game he will lose his major league ERA lead, with his 121 innings no longer satisfying the one-per-team-game requirement.

That record has been despite the starting rotation struggling in Kershaw’s absence. The rotation in the last 44 games has a 4.98 ERA while averaging 4.88 innings per start. In August things have gotten worse, with a 6.25 starters ERA in 16 games, averaging 4.5 innings per start.

You can only survive such performance for so long.

Bud Norris struggled in his first game off the disabled list on Friday in Cincinnati, and Brett Anderson did as well last Sunday in his first start of the season, allowing two home runs and five runs in his one inning of work.

Anderson gets the ball again on Saturday, hoping the mild left wrist sprain shows no ill effects this time around.

Manager Dave Roberts also told reporters that Julio Urias would start on Sunday in Cincinnati. Monday is still up in the air, with Kenta Maeda either pitching the finale in Cincinnati or held back or the Giants series.

Either way the Dodgers have a right to be optimistic about the cavalry getting closer to returning to the rotation, but getting a few good starts in the interim sure wouldn’t hurt.

Since Kershaw’s last start, the Dodgers are 20-10 when their starting pitchers last at least five innings, and 6-8 when they don’t.

Game info

Time: 4:10 p.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA