PHOENIX — Nine days away from opening day, and four pitchers are battling for the final two spots in the Dodgers rotation, according to manager Dave Roberts.
The first three spots are secure, with Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill starting the first three games of the season, in that order to break up the left-handers at the top of the rotation.
Hill starts Saturday for the Dodgers against the A’s at Camelback Ranch in his final extended start of spring. He is expected to pitch five or six innings against Oakland.
Brandon McCarthy would seem to have one of those two spots secured, with two years remaining on his guaranteed contract, no options, and all of two relief appearances in the last 10 seasons, just one if you only count relief appearances in which he recorded an out (maybe Adrian Gonzalez can explain if that counts as a partial inning). But Roberts wouldn’t fully commit on Saturday morning, saying only of McCarthy’s rotation status, “It’s still to be determined.”
McCarthy will pitch on the back fields on Sunday to stretch out to six innings. The Dodgers don’t play any minor league games on Sunday, so McCarthy will pitch a simulated game instead.
Scott Kazmir gets the start in the major league game on Sunday, against the Rangers at Surprise Stadium. He has spent all spring battling hip problems and working tirelessly on his delivery, but was also topping out at 87 mph last week and for most of camp, as Roberts put it, didn’t have any drive on his pitches.
Kazmir will pitch four or five innings against the Rangers, and though common sense implies there is no way Kazmir will be major league ready in less than two weeks Roberts refuses to rule the left-hander out just yet.
“We haven’t made that decision yet,” Roberts said.
The other two vying for rotation spots are Hyun-jin Ryu and Alex Wood.
Ryu starts on Monday, and will likely be stretched out to five innings. He has shown so far in camp that he is healthy after two seasons lost to injuries, but we are also talking about just three spring starts to date, so far maxing out at four innings.
Per Ryu’s contract, he cannot be sent to the minors without his consent, so if he is still healthy — and so far, it looks like he is — it might be difficult to get him to open the season either in extended spring training or Triple-A to continue to stretch out. Then again, getting Ryu through five innings on Monday might be all the Dodgers need to see.
Wood could end up drawing the short straw since he has options, but he has pitched well enough in camp to earn a rotation spot, too. He will start one of the split squad games on Tuesday, with Julio Urias starting the other game.
The rotation resets on Wednesday, with Kershaw starting getaway day against the Mariners, the Dodgers’ final spring game in Arizona. That begins the final tune-up stage of spring, with starting pitchers throwing shorter games, usually around 45 pitches.
The Freeway Series against the Angels only runs through Saturday, so whoever wins the fifth-starter spot — essentially between Wood and Ryu given how everyone lines up — will throw a shortened, simulated game on the Sunday off day before opening day in their final preparation for the regular season.