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The Dodgers starting rotation needs an immediate, short-term fix

Tuesday’s starter is TBD

MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers
Manny Banuelos has a 3.45 ERA in 60 innings with Triple-A Oklahoma City, with 71 strikeouts and 19 walks.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers are returning home today with literally three healthy starting pitchers — and they’re all slated to pitch this weekend against a much-improved Atlanta club.

Walker Buehler, Alex Wood and Ross Stripling are all going to start. Buehler and especially Stripling have been great for the last month-plus, while Wood had a rough go of things the last time out. But hey, at least they’re healthy.

The same can’t be said for the rest of the Dodgers’ starting rotation. The latest injury was to Dennis Santana, who hurt his right lat muscle when trying to throw a slider shortly before Thursday’s game. He was set to be the 11th starting pitcher the Dodgers have used this season, which included Scott Alexander starting a week ago as “the opener,” which, ugh. Now, he might miss a few weeks, if not longer (depending on the MRI results).

Instead, Daniel Hudson – pitching for a third consecutive day – got the ball in the first inning in the finale against the Pirates. The Dodgers ultimately won, but it wasn’t pretty. And it might be a sign of things to come unless something changes.

For a team that prides itself on depth, the starting pitcher depth is all but gone. Clayton Kershaw is on the disabled list and is probably, at best, three weeks from coming back (and who knows how effective he’ll be). Kenta Maeda could be back in a week but rushing him just to have another warm body to start a game would be foolish. Rich Hill is still a few weeks out as well because he can’t pitch with his finger bandaged. And Hyun-Jin Ryu isn’t due back until after the All-Star break.

This doesn’t even account for Brock Stewart’s general ineffectiveness, Julio Urias’ unknown status for the rest of the season (and it’s probably best not to count on him for anything, just in case) and Caleb Ferguson’s lone start that he clearly wasn’t ready for. But you can’t really blame the Dodgers for that one because they literally did not have anyone else they trusted to take the ball.

Manny Banuelos, who has a 3.45 ERA, a 4.01 FIP and 71 strikeouts in 60 innings for Triple-A Oklahoma City, might be the next man up because Tuesday’s starter might as well be this guy: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Here’s a remarkable stat from Eric.

That is a workload this bullpen — any bullpen — cannot sustain. The Dodgers’ bullpen wasn’t particularly good before this heavy workload, and to expect these guys to continue to pitch anywhere near this much and still be effective is a recipe for disaster.

The tough part is, there’s not really anyone left in the minors the Dodgers can call on. Banuelos might be the best option. To say that in 2018 is absolute madness. Another possibility could be Justin De Fratus, who has 194 career MLB innings and a not-horrible 4.08 ERA and 3.83 FIP. The 30-year-old has a 3.53 ERA between Triple-A Oklahoma City and Double-A Tulsa and is averaging a hair more than six innings per start. But he’s not without his flaws, as he’s given up 76 hits (10.3 H/9) and eight home runs this season. He also has just a 20-percent strikeout rate. Against a 6.5 BB%, that isn’t bad, but it’s not the MO of a Dodger pitcher these days. The worst K-BB% among starters on the team is 10.4 percent by Hill, who is way better than that. De Fratus is also currently in Double-A, if you want to know how the organization feels about him at present.

This lack of depth leads me to believe the Dodgers might need to scour the Triple-A ranks to see if there are any pitchers who aren’t only worth acquiring but could come in and eat a few innings. But before we go there, let’s look at current free agents (age in parenthesis).

  • R.A. Dickey (43)
  • Scott Feldman (35)
  • Matt Garza (34)
  • Ubaldo Jimenez (34)
  • John Lackey (39)
  • Jeff Locke (30)
  • Jake Peavy (37)
  • Chris Smith (37)

This list could be considered a personal attack. For that, I apologize.

So, unless you’re president of the Feldman fan club or Peavy comeback bandwagon, Triple-A starters it is!

Remember, these guys wouldn’t be coming in to play meaningful, long-term roles. They’d be coming in to just have enough arms to get through the number of remaining innings in the season — both in the majors and minors.

  • P.J. Conlon*, Las Vegas (Mets)
  • Joe Gunkel, New Orleans (Marlins)
  • Justin Haley, Red Sox
  • Nick Kingham, Pirates
  • John Lamb, Salt Lake (Angels)
  • Justin Nicolino*, Louisville (Reds)
  • Vidal Nuño*, Rays

*- denotes left-handed pitcher

If some of these names look familiar, they should. Conlon was literally a Dodger just a few days ago before he was claimed off waivers by the Mets, his original team. Gunkel and Nuno both spent time in the organization last season — Gunkel for a few weeks during the season, Nuño in the winter for a similar few weeks.

Those guys would make some sense because the organization is at least familiar with them. Gunkel is the only question mark as he’s currently on the 7-day DL (since June 2). I don’t suspect any of these guys would be too costly to acquire — either prospect-wise or financially. Kingham and Nuño are both currently in the majors, and Haley was just called up by Boston on Friday.

The names aren’t great. But unless you want guys like Daniel Corcino, Guillermo Moscos or Tyler Pill — all real names, by the way — pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers, then the Dodgers might have to look outside the organization to improve the depth in-season.

The starting pitching is in shambles right now. Despite the veritable M*A*S*H unit they’re running out there now, the Dodgers starters still have the fourth-best FIP in baseball (3.32) and the third-best K-BB% (20.1 percent). But with the way guys are coming and going, I’m not sure how much longer they can keep up this pace.

If the team is playing well enough, they’ll add a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. They have for three years running. But if they hope to get to that point, they might have to make a minor addition or two first.

As for Tuesday’s starter, I almost wonder how quickly they could get John Rooney signed.