Stop me if you have heard this before, but the Dodgers for the moment don’t have plans to start Clayton Kershaw on short rest should their National League Division Series get to a Game 4.
The 2-2-1 format and schedule of the NLDS better allows for a pitcher throwing on three days rest, especially with the off day between Games 4 and 5 giving a chance for the Game 2 starter to pitch the series finale on regular, four days rest if needed. In the best-of-seven NLCS and World Series, with the 2-3-2 format, starting the Game 1 starter on three days rest still requires maneuvering the rest of the rotation, making it more palatable to use four, instead of three starters.
Manager Dave Roberts told reporters on Sunday in Colorado that Kershaw, who will start Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday at Dodger Stadium, will not start in Game 4, which he has done in each of the last four years in the Division Series. Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register has more:
“We talked about it. Actually we talked about it a couple weeks ago,” Roberts said Sunday. “Clayton is up for anything we ask of him which he’s always done. But we’ve assured him that the reason you acquire a guy like Yu Darvish is to keep him away from short rest.
“You look at our potential playoff starters we’re in pretty good shape. We’re in great shape. Like I told Clayton, we don’t see him pitching on short rest this series.”
The Dodgers are as well equipped as they have been during this run of five straight division titles to have four playoff-worthy starters at the ready. Alex Wood may be the fourth starter now, given how the rotation seems to be shaking out, or perhaps it is Hyun-jin Ryu. But either one beats the last four choices: Ricky Nolasco, Dan Haren, the 2015 version of Wood, and Julio Urias.
Because the Dodgers’ rotation is deeper than they have been in the last five years, this year’s proclamation that Kershaw won’t start Game 4 has a little more weight behind it. But just for fun, let’s look back at the last four years of similar talk heading into the NLDS.
"Right now we're scheduled with Ricky and that's the way we're going to go," manager Don Mattingly said before Game 3. "Obviously you're going to go through every scenario but we're looking at Ricky in Game 4."
Then after Game 4, in which Kershaw pitched six innings and allowed two unearned runs:
"After Game 1, he was barking right after the game that he was ready for Game 4," manager Don Mattingly said on Monday. "We're like no, no, no, no, no. Let's see where you're at tomorrow. Let's see how you're doing. Then really that process was ust a matter of waiting things out to see if he kind of responded to everything and how he was feeling, and then really making sure one last time that he was a hundred percent with it.
"Because if it was something that he wasn't a hundred percent with, and really everyone wasn't with, we wouldn't do this. So That's how it came about."
Presumed Game 4 starter Haren was also at the ready to pitch out of the bullpen if needed in Game 3, adding a different wrinkle:
"We're not making any commitment to Game 4 at this point besides Danny Haren. We're talking about a number of options," Mattingly said. "What happens if ‑‑ then is it Clayton or possibly Carlos Frias or somebody else? Again, we've got to make that decision depending on what goes on."
When asked if Haren pitching in Game 3 was the only way Kershaw would start Game 4 Mattingly said, "I didn't say that."
Kershaw started Game 4, again:
"It's Clayton Kershaw. I hate to say it like that," Mattingly said. "These kind of guys don't curl up and go away. You don't get to where you are, you don't win four ERA titles and end up going to win three out of the last four Cy Youngs, could have won all four of them, just by anything goes bad, you just curl up and go away. These guys go to work, they come back. They keep working and they keep going. So this is a different cat.
"He's our best guy."
In the first season of the new front office, the Game 4 starter was undecided before the series. But it was at least rationally considered:
"It's a complicated decision," general manager Farhan Zaidi said of pitching on three days rest. "Part of what complicates it is usually not going off a great sample of guys doing it. It's becoming a less frequent thing. There is no easy way to evaluate it, and you have to go case by case. A lot of times you have to see how the series evolves before making any decisions."
Before the series, Roberts didn’t dismiss the idea of Kershaw on short rest right away, saying, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Last year presented another wrinkle, with rain postponing Game 2 one day. That meant Rich Hill would be on short rest if he started Game 5. Down 2-1, the Dodgers needed to win two games, and the options included starting Urias at home in Game 4 and Kershaw on full rest on the road in Game 5.
“We’ve had conversations,” Roberts said. “I think Clayton is open to whatever we feel and he’s just waiting for the go ahead, so he’s prepared either way.”
The Dodgers went with Kershaw in Game 4, like always, in part because of heavy bullpen use in the previous two games. They needed Kershaw to go deep in Game 4 to set the stage for the all-hands-on-deck finale, if they get there:
“Game 5 is just about shortening the game, finding in our opinion the best matchups and giving us a chance to win,” manager Dave Roberts said. “To have the guys that we have at our disposal available and rested for Game 5 puts us in a good spot. That’s why, again, we really like Clayton going today.”
But the most famous Kershaw usage in last year’s NLDS was his save in Game 5, retiring the final two batters of the game, a few hours after Roberts was asked if Kershaw was available that night in relief.
“Absolutely not,” Roberts said.
Like always with these Kershaw decisions in October, we’ll see.