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Dodgers starting rotation starting to take shape

Los Angeles Dodgers v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

PEORIA — One Dodgers pitcher continued his progression toward the opening day starting rotation on Wednesday, and it became a little clearer that probably won’t be the case for another.

Brandon McCarthy allowed three runs, including two home runs in his 3⅔ innings, pulled one out earlier than planned for reaching his limit of 60 pitches.

"The way Mac has thrown, in his pen and into games. He's not where he's going to be, but it's not results driven,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I think he feels good and feels strong. I think he's throwing the ball well.”

The Dodgers beat the Mariners, 12-7.

Julio Urias was scheduled to throw two innings on Wednesday, but recorded just two outs while allowing two doubles and two runs, walking one and striking out another. Urias threw 31 pitches, essentially his limit for the day anyway, but Roberts said it didn’t make sense to let him throw more than that in any one inning.

Roberts said he would have pulled any of his starters at this point in spring training with such a long inning.

But given that opening day is now under three weeks away, time is running out for Urias to build up in time to be ready for the opening day rotation. Especially since he is at roughly 30 pitches while the rest of the staff is around 60 pitches by now.

“The guys are ramping up,” Roberts said. “I wouldn't say the book is closed yet on Julio breaking with us, but obviously if we're going to do it we've got to ramp the innings up.”

This falls in line with the Dodgers possibly starting Urias in extended spring training rather than break camp with the major league team, in an attempt to limit his innings. The club knows they can’t use the 20-year-old in the rotation from day one of the regular season straight through the playoffs, so the only question is when he gets rested, something that hasn’t really changed since the beginning of spring.

While the talent of Urias is undeniable, the club has to balance that with protecting his arm for the long term. There isn’t much of a blueprint for this situation.

"The industry is not used to a guy like Julio. He's so advanced, but he's so young,” Roberts said. "There's really no right answer.”

If the Dodgers decide to rest Urias at the start of the season, it would essentially be a “conditioning” period much like Ross Stripling had last June. The only pitching Urias might do in that situation would probably be a simulated game or two to get ready to join the team, essentially borrowing from his relatively light workload so far this spring (5⅔ innings in four starts, never more than two innings in one outing).

The other option with Urias is to rest him midseason at some point. But while the Dodgers haven’t exactly made their plans for Urias known, one thing seems clear — they only want him to start, rather than pitch in relief occasionally like he did three times last year.

"It would basically be a shutdown, or skipping a couple starts,” Roberts said. “The idea of putting him in the bullpen, we don't like that.”

With Urias unlikely for the opening day roster, the rest of the rotation is becoming pretty clear.

Scott Kazmir threw a bullpen session on Tuesday, still dealing with hip tightness and working out the kinks in his delivery, but isn’t scheduled to pitch again in a game any time soon.

He won’t be ready by opening day, nor will Brock Stewart, who is still nursing a sore shoulder.

Hyun-jin Ryu is progressing nicely, but has still only made one Cactus League start. He is scheduled to pitch three innings on Thursday against the Cubs, and though he could conceivably be ready to join the opening day rotation it is unlikely the Dodgers will push that hard after the left-hander made just one major league start in the last two seasons.

"With [Ryu], we're being very deliberate. With the depth we have with our starting pitching there's really no rush,” Roberts said. “We're just making sure he feels good and continues to improve.”

That leaves McCarthy, Alex Wood and Stripling vying for the two rotation spots behind Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, and Rich Hill. And Stripling, who like Urias has yet to top two innings in an outing this spring, might be more of a candidate for the bullpen than the rotation.

"If you look at the potential construction of our 25-man roster, you've got to have some length,” Roberts said. “Ross can pitch in a lot of different roles. He showed that last year.”

McCarthy and Wood sure seem like the favorites to land those final two Dodgers rotation spots. There are still two weeks left in camp in Arizona, then another three days of the Freeway Series, so a lot can still happen. But that’s where things stand now.

Up next

Ryu starts for the Dodgers on Thursday afternoon at Camelback Ranch against the Cubs. It is the first of three straight games in Glendale that will be called by Joe Davis, Orel Hershiser and Alanna Rizzo on SportsNet LA.

For the split-squad games on Friday night, Kershaw will start at home against the Mariners, while Wood starts in Peoria against the Padres.