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Dodgers making do with only 4 starting pitchers, for now

Thursday is a bullpen game for LA

Los Angeles Dodgers defeat the Washington Nationals 1-0 on Opening Day.
Dodgers fans line up to see which of the many pitchers are available on Thursday.
Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

The Dodgers plan to deploy a bullpen game on Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series against the Giants, a remnant of a month-long scramble to fill a void in the starting rotation left by Dustin May tearing the UCL in his elbow.

The nominal starter hasn’t yet been announced, though the Dodgers have several options from which to choose.

Dodgers bullpen availability

Pitcher Last game Days rest
Pitcher Last game Days rest
Jansen May 22 4
Treinen May 21 5
Gonzalez (L) May 20 6
Price May 23 3
Kelly May 25 1
Vesia (L) May 22 4
Uceta May 23 3
Bickford May 25 1
Jones May 26 0
Santana May 26 0

Nate Jones and Dennis Santana were the only Dodgers relievers to pitch on Wednesday night, and on Tuesday they only needed Joe Kelly and Phil Bickford to get the final four outs. Carrying 14 pitchers on the roster, the Dodgers will have six relievers available on Thursday with at least three days rest, including the top-four leverage group of Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Victor Gonzalez, and David Price.

Only three relievers have pitched twice in the last six days — Jones, Santana, and Bickford.

It’s as good a situation as a team with only four active starting pitchers can hope for heading into an all-hands-on-deck situation.

“Looking at our roster right now, we’re carrying 10 relievers. In an American League interleague game, it’s certainly not ideal. When we do that at home, as far as bench players, it’s not ideal,” manager Dave Roberts said Wednesday. “Credit goes to the starting pitchers. I just feel that having four guys that can give you a really good chance to go deep in games, to spell the bullpen on their days, gives a fighting chance for the bullpen days.”

Trevor Bauer lasting six innings on Wednesday in Houston helped to provide the bullpen some relief, though that’s been the norm of late. The quartet of Bauer, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and Julio Urías have pitched at least six innings in each of their last 13 starts.

The first bullpen game the Dodgers used came on the final day of April, part of a stretch of 14 games in 14 days, to give the then-five-man rotation an extra day of rest. But the best-laid plans went awry the very next day when May injured his elbow in the second inning of what became a second straight bullpen game, this one an impromptu sort.

That the Dodgers have only used two bullpen games since then is a testament to how effective the other four starters have been, and a grouping of off days that allowed the team some maneuverability.

For the most part, the bullpen games have been effective. In all three games, the Dodgers allowed no more than three runs, though they lost two of the three. Seven of the eight total runs allowed came on home runs — a two-run shot and three-run shot allowed by Edwin Uceta in the two losses, and a two-run shot against Joe Kelly in a win.

Dodgers bullpen games

Date Pitchers used IP H R ER BB K Result
Date Pitchers used IP H R ER BB K Result
Fri, Apr 30 6 8 6 3 3 3 5 L, 3-1 at Mil
Sun, May 16 6 9 6 3 3 3 12 L, 3-2 vs. Mia
Thu, May 20 7 9 7 2 2 1 14 W, 3-2 vs. Ari
Totals 19 26 19 8 8 7 31 2.77 ERA, 1.000 WHIP

But the cost comes in potential availability of relievers in the days before and after the bullpen game, and a short bench in the games surrounding. Kershaw has pinch hit twice this season, for instance, and Kenley Jansen batted once.

“It’s kind of where we’re at,” Roberts said.

The club planned to use top prospect Josiah Gray for at least one of these fill-in starts, but a shoulder impingement on May 11 squashed those plans.

Now, it’s essentially waiting on Tony Gonsolin, working back from a shoulder impingement of his own. He pitched three scoreless innings on Sunday in his first game of a rehab assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City, and will start again for OKC on Friday.

The Dodgers could have lined up this bullpen game with Gonsolin’s schedule, but instead opted to give an extra day of rest to Buehler and Urías, who will pitch against the Giants on Friday and Saturday. Kershaw will pitch Sunday in the series finale, on regular rest.

But because the Dodgers don’t have another off day until June 3, that means they will need another bullpen game next Tuesday against the Cardinals. And it means they want Gonsolin to further stretch out, ideally to at least five innings, before he is activated from the injured list.

“With Tony it’s going to be two [more rehab starts] at a minimum,” Roberts said. “We’ll reevaluate after that second one.”

Links & news

Here’s who the Dodgers will face on the mound in the four-game series against San Francisco:

Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus dove deep into the data of MLB offenses, and concluded change is coming: “Games are longer, more strikeout heavy, and harder to watch for the casual fan. And it doesn’t look like the train is stopping.”

Old friend Josh Lindblom was designated for assignment by the Brewers on Wedensday. The 34-year-old right-hander allowed 18 runs in 16⅔ innings in relief in the second season of a three-year, $9.125 million contract signed before last season.