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Figuring out the Dodgers’ starting rotation

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There’s a lot of options

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers-Workouts Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

We are almost a month away from Opening Day. 35 days to be exact. The Dodgers are going to have one of the best rosters we’ve ever seen from them. They’re likely going to win yet another division title, and they are probably the best bet to represent the National League in the World Series in 2020.

However, with everything essentially set in stone, there is one major question that manager Dave Roberts will need to figure out sooner rather than later.

The starting rotation.

As of right now, there are three guarantees in the rotation. In no particular order, we’ll be seeing Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and David Price. The final two spots are where things are going to get tricky.

As of now, there are six potential options for the final two spots. What will Roberts do? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Let’s go over the six different options.

Julio Urías

Though Roberts hasn’t officially confirmed it yet this spring, we should expect to see Urías crack the rotation this year. In August of last year, Roberts said he viewed Urías as a starter in 2020. Then, in November of last year, Andrew Friedman said that the Dodgers plan on having Urías in the rotation.

Urías, now 23, made his major-league debut back in 2016. During his rookie campaign, he made 15 starts. Since then, he’s only made a combined 13.

It’s been a shaky start to the career for Urías, who was once a top prospect in the Dodgers organization. After appearing in 18 games in 2016, he only pitched in a combined eight games in 2017 and 2018. Major shoulder surgery sidelined him over a year, and essentially cost him nearly two full seasons.

2019 was the best year for Urías. He appeared in a career-high 37 games, but a domestic violence suspension caused him to miss a chunk of the season.

In addition to a career-high in games, he also posted career bests in ERA (2.49), strikeouts (85), ERA+ (167), WHIP (1.079) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.15).

In his 37 games, he made eight starts. However, he threw more than three innings only four times, with his longest outing being six innings.

Urías was used as an innings-eater last season. In just about 23 of his outings, he threw more than one inning. Though there wasn’t a significant gap, he was a better reliever than starter. In 29 games as a reliever, he posted a 2.01 ERA, compared to a 3.24 ERA as a starter. Mind you, that’s still a great number, he was just much better coming out of the pen.

Something noticeable about his splits last year were his strikeout numbers. As a starter, he had a SO/9 of 11.0 compared to 8.8 as a reliever.

Still only 23 years old, it seems like now is the time for Urías to insert himself into that rotation and be a key contributor. If healthy, I see no reason for him not to be a member of the starting rotation to begin the season.

Likeliness of being in Opening Day starting rotation: 9.5/10

Alex Wood

This will be an interesting storyline to follow. After a successful stint with the Dodgers, Wood was traded to Cincinnati last year, and had a disastrous season. He started seven games, posting a career-worst 5.80 ERA and 6.38 FIP.

Granted, he only appeared in seven games because of injury, but it was a forgetful season to say the least.

He re-signed with the Dodgers in January, returning to the team he made his first career All-Star Game with. Fully healthy, Wood expects to be ready to go come Opening Day.

During an interview on AM 570 LA Sports with David Vassegh, Wood spoke about returning to the Dodgers. I don’t have the exact quote, but when asked about why he returned to the Dodgers, he said something along the lines of “I wouldn’t have come here if I wasn’t starting”.

He also added this.

“I knew coming in the spot was mine,” Wood said to the OC Register.

It looks like Wood is expecting to be a starter, and I’m just not quite sure if that’s going to happen. Will he make starts this year for the Dodgers? Absolutely. But will they be at the beginning of the season? I’m not entirely sure.

Aside from Buehler, the Dodgers already have three lefties in their rotation, and I can’t see them going with four. With that being said, I would think Wood would be the odd man out, as opposed to Urías.

Over his final three seasons with LA, Wood went 26-14 with a 3.29 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 3.38 FIP and 122 ERA+, all of which are above average numbers for a starting pitcher. As I mentioned, he only made seven starts last year, missing the first four months of the season, including September. I’m not sure the Dodgers would be confident enough to insert him into the rotation immediately.

Now, he is going to get an early opportunity to prove he’s worth a spot, as he’ll be starting this upcoming Sunday against the Cubs in the Dodgers’ second Spring Training game.

Friedman seems confident Wood will be in the starting rotation moving forward. “So to the extent that he comes out and looks like what we expect, it’s hard to see how he wouldn’t be (in the starting rotation),” he said to the OC Register.

Likeliness of being in Opening Day starting rotation: 8.5/10

Dustin May

The number one pitching prospect in the organization saw a glimpse of the big leagues last season, appearing in 14 games. He made four starts, going 1-2 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Though it was a small sample size, he was drastically better as a starter compared to a reliever.

In 10 appearances out of the pen, he had an ERA of over five. Ironically, his strikeout numbers were way up, as he averaged 10.9 per nine innings, compared to 6.9 as a starter. He did have a great end to his rookie campaign, throwing 10 scoreless innings with 14 strikeouts to finish the season.

Coming up through the minors, May was used primarily as a starter. In 78 career minor-league games, he started in 73 of them. Between Oklahoma City and Tulsa in 2019, May made 20 starts, going 6-5 with a 3.38 ERA. His WHIP was 1.13, and averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

May’s name was brought up this offseason in potential trade packages, but LA opted to hang onto him, as they’re clearly high on him being in the rotation moving forward. It’s likely he’ll start a number of games for LA in 2020, but it’s unclear still as to whether or not he’ll make the Opening Day roster.

As of now, I would lean towards yes, but with so much pitching depth, I wouldn’t be shocked if May begins the season in OKC, getting consistent starts until he’s needed in LA’s rotation. May has been dealing with a slight injury so far in spring with mild tightness in his side, so it’s still unclear as to when we can see him pitch for the first time.

Likeliness of being in Opening Day starting rotation: 5.5/10

Tony Gonsolin

Another rookie who saw his first major-league action in 2019. He went 4-2, posting a 2.93 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 143 ERA+. Just like May, he spent time as both a starter and a reliever. It was nearly an even split, as Gonsolin made six starts and came out of the bullpen five times.

Speaking of a nearly even split, his numbers were nearly identical. As a starter, he posted a 2.89 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP and SO/BB ratio of 2.40. As a reliever, his ERA was 3.00, to go along with a 0.92 WHIP and SO/BB ratio of 2.60.

In Gonsolin’s minor-league career, he was used as a reliever in more than half of his games. He appeared in a total of 100 games, and came out of the bullpen in 61 of them. However, it appears the Dodgers have plans of him being in the starting rotation moving forward.

Today, Roberts announced that Gonsolin will be getting the start on Saturday, the first game of Spring Training. It’s unclear how many innings he’ll go, but Gonsolin will be kicking off the 2020 campaign as a starter.

If Gonsolin has a great spring, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get that fifth and final starting pitching nod.

Likeliness of being in Opening Day starting rotation: 6/10

Ross Stripling

Yes, Stripling is still a Dodger, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. For a week, it looked as if he would be heading to Anaheim to join the Angels, but for whatever reason, the Angels backed out of that deal.

Yet again, Stripling enters this season with unclarity about his job. This will be his fifth season with LA. During his career, he’s appeared in a total of 136 games, but has only started in 52 of them. Last year he did start 15 games, the second most of his career.

Since his debut, Stripling has been one of the more consistent arms for the Dodgers. He owns a career 3.51 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 115 ERA+ and 3.60 FIP, some solid numbers all across the board. Just like the guys I mentioned earlier, he’ll definitely see starts in 2020. The question is, when?

Stripling is a solid arm that would be a great middle of the rotation guy for so many teams. However, it’s tough to see him getting the edge over young guys like Urías, Gonsolin, May, and even Wood. The Dodgers know what they got in Stripling, and he seems to fit into his job fairly well. I know he’d probably love to be starting in the big leagues, but he’s been a great team player, and will have no problem being more of a bullpen piece in 2020 if asked by the Dodgers.

Likeliness of being in Opening Day starting rotation: 4/10

Jimmy Nelson

I don’t think there’s any chance we see Nelson in the starting rotation come Opening Day, but hey, stranger things have happened. Nelson was signed as a free-agent, after being in the Brewers organization for nearly a decade.

2019 was a forgetful one for Nelson, as he went 0-2 with a 6.95 ERA and 1.91 WHIP in 10 games. He only appeared in a few games, and missed all of 2018 with an injury, so he hasn’t thrown that many innings over the years.

The Dodgers are likely hoping he can recapture the season he had in 2017, in which he was an All-Star and finished ninth in the Cy Young Award voting. Three seasons ago, Nelson went 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA, 126 ERA+, 3.05 FIP and 1.25 WHIP. He also had a SO/BB ratio of 4.15.

If you look at the rest of his career as a whole, he hasn’t been that good. However, there’s no question he has the potential to be a quality arm, and the Dodgers have high hopes of him returning to his 2017 form.

He’s been dealing with lower back problems so far this spring, so he isn’t 100 percent healthy quite yet. Friedman said that if he doesn’t crack the starting rotation, he could see him being used in a Brandon Morrow type role. For those who forget, Morrow was used frequently when coming out of the bullpen for LA in 2017.

Nelson has a lot of obstacles to overcome this season, and I think he’ll likely be used as a reliever more than a starter. However, expect him to get some starts this year.

Likeliness of being in Opening Day starting rotation: 1/10

Who do you see being in the Opening Day starting rotation?