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Dodgers need innings from Walker Buehler to rest bullpen

LHPs Victor Gonzalez, Darien Núñez are getting close to activation from injured list

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers
The ideal number of Dodgers pitchers used on Saturday vs. the Mets
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Dodgers have their best two starters going in the final two games of their series against the Mets in New York, and they will need Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer to pitch deep into games this weekend to ease a bullpen that has faced a heavy workload of late.

Especially Buehler, who has allowed five total runs in his last six starts. He’s averaging 6.42 innings per start this season, fifth in the majors, and has lasted at least six innings in 22 of his 23 starts.

“Looking at where we’re at right now with the ‘pen, it gives you a little bit of solace knowing that he’s on the mound, with what he’s done and what he’s capable of doing in a given start,” manager Dave Roberts said Saturday. “The bottom line is we’re a much better club the day prior, the day he’s pitching, and the day after he pitches.”

Where the Dodgers are at with the bullpen is that only five of the nine active relievers are available for Saturday’s game. Kenley Jansen is out after pitching the last two days, including his first two-inning game of the season on Friday. Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, and Justin Bruihl are also out, Roberts said, after pitching three times in the last four days.

On the first four games of the road trip, the Dodgers bullpen pitched 19⅔ innings. They didn’t allow any runs until Friday night’s disastrous four-run seventh that tied the game, then the free runner scoring against Jansen in the 10th.

That leaves Corey Knebel, Phil Bickford, and left-hander Alex Vesia as the preferred relievers on Saturday, plus Conner Greene and Edwin Uceta in lower-leverage situations if necessary. But what they really need is an extended outing from Buehler, who pitched six innings on Sunday and is pitching this game on five days rest. Buehler has a 1.79 ERA in 10 starts on five days rest this season, averaging 6.53 innings per start.

Dodgers-Mets lineups

Pos Dodgers Pos Mets
Pos Dodgers Pos Mets
2B Turner CF Nimmo (L)
1B Muncy (L) 2B McNeil (L)
C Smith 1B Alonso
SS Seager (L) LF Smith (L)
LF Pollock RF Conforto (L)
3B Taylor 3B Davis
CF Bellinger (L) SS Villar (S)
RF McKinney (L) C Nido
P Buehler P Walker

On the 40-man roster, the only pitchers who aren’t active or on the injured list are starters Cole Hamels and Andre Jackson, so any sort of fresh-arm injection would have to come from off the 40-man roster. Or they could wait a few days and potentially get a few pitchers back.

Victor Gonzalez threw a 25-pitch bullpen session on Friday, and could be activated as early as Monday, when the Dodgers return home to start a homestand. The determinant of whether Gonzalez is activated Monday or throws a simulated game will be how he feels Saturday and Sunday.

Darien Núñez threw a 20-pitch bullpen session on Friday, and could be activated soon as well. He’s on the injured list with an undisclosed reason, as is Joe Kelly. Núñez is with the team on the road trip, while Kelly is back in Los Angeles.

Justin Turner is out of the lineup for a fifth straight game on Saturday, but could be available in limited duty in reserve against the Mets.

“I expect him to be ready off the bench, just to take an at-bat,” Roberts said. “If he does get on base, expect somebody to run for him, then I expect him to be in the lineup [Sunday].”

Chris Taylor starts at third base for the fourth time this week in place of Turner. Max Muncy, who played the final eight innings last Sunday after Turner’s groin injury, got the other start at third this week.