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Alex Wood expects to start, but playoff role undecided

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MLB: San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Wood won his 16th game of the season on Tuesday night, but the left-hander’s All-Star season as a starter might end where it began — in the Dodgers bullpen.

Before just about every game of this homestand, there has been discussion about the Dodgers October rotation, which hasn’t been officially revealed beyond Clayton Kershaw in Game 1. Kenta Maeda has already been moved to the bullpen, which would be his potential role in the postseason. But Hyun-jin Ryu has not.

Ryu, who suffered a left forearm contusion after getting hit by a line drive on Saturday, threw a bullpen session on Tuesday and is all set to start Friday against the Rockies at Coors Field. Ryu has a 2.42 ERA in 10 starts since the All-Star break, with 46 strikeouts and 22 walks in 52 innings.

Left-handers hit Ryu well — .325/.381/.563 against him in 2017, .289/.334/.441 career — so it’s unlikely he would be used for specific matchups in October, and his elaborate warmup routine makes a bullpen role even less likely. So if Ryu makes a playoff roster, it would probably be as a starter.

Which brings us to Wood, who allowed two runs in six innings against the Padres on Tuesday. He has allowed four runs in 18 innings in his last three starts, but it has been a tale of two seasons for the left-hander.

Alex Wood’s 2017 velocity

Month Sinker mph
Month Sinker mph
April 93.48
May 93.15
June 92.42
July 91.91
August 91.36
September 90.85
Source: Brooks Baseball

Before the All-Star break, Wood had a 1.67 ERA and 2.04 FIP with a 63.5% ground ball rate. Since the break, Wood has a 3.89 ERA and 4.76 FIP, and his ground ball rate is 44.2%. After allowing two home runs in 80⅔ innings before the break, he has allowed 13 home runs in 71⅔ innings since, including two on Tuesday.

Wood’s velocity on his sinking fastball has also steadily declined throughout the season, from an average of 93.48 mph in April to 90.85 mph in September, per Brooks Baseball. In his two relief appearances this season — both in April — his 36 sinkers averaged 94.14 mph. In 2016, Wood averaged 92.04 mph in relief in September and October.

He also has experience in the bullpen, both earlier in his career with the Braves, and in 2016 when he returned from an elbow injury in September and made the Dodgers’ NLCS roster as a reliever. Being able to use Wood in multiple games might be a more desirable option than as a starter in a potential Game 4. That is especially true in the NLDS, with a schedule that allows for Kershaw to possibly start on three days rest with the No. 2 starter — likely Yu Darvish, but again, TBD — able to return in Game 5 on regular rest if needed.

Understandably, Wood wants to start.

Manager Dave Roberts all homestand has been noncommittal as to who his fourth playoff starter will be, though on Saturday he did hint that any pitcher that would be used in a bullpen role in October should at least get some reps in the role beforehand.

“It does make sense if anyone will be in that particular role, to go through that process, to practice it,” he said.

Ryu starts Friday in Colorado, while Sunday’s starter has yet to be announced.