LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers made the right call in giving Julio Urías the ball to start Game 1 of the NLDS, honoring the pitcher that’s answered the bell for three years running.
It’s the first career Game 1 start for Urías, and would have been the 12th for Clayton Kershaw had he been chosen to begin the series. Instead, Kershaw will pitch Game 2, and if the Dodgers have their way, not again until the NLCS.
Urías said Monday he found out he was starting Game 1 during the first practice last week after the conclusion of the regular season.
“Obviously, a lot has gone into this. A lot of things from my teammates, from my coaches, from the training staff,” Urías said. “Everybody that has put in this work for me, it’s another opportunity for me to go out there and pitch in a moment like this.”
At issue wasn’t so much which pitcher should start Game 1, but rather which one would you rather have start twice in the series. Under the usual Division Series schedule, two off days would allow for either starter to pitch Game 5 on ample rest. But with no travel day between Games 4 and 5 this year, only the Game 1 starter would be on regular rest in Game 5.
Dave Roberts during the final week of the regular season floated the idea of potentially having Kershaw start Game 1, with Urías starting Game 2 and potentially be available to pitch in relief in Game 5 on short rest.
“We thought about it and kicked around a lot of different scenarios,” Roberts admitted Monday. “We just felt having Julio for Game 1 and potentially for Game 5 on regular rest made the most sense. Hopefully we can get through this series, and then Clayton would be even more prominent in the next series.”
Circumstances often create moves that might otherwise put pitchers out of their comfort zone. The Dodgers organizationally did not have enough depth when Kershaw pitched on short rest in four consecutive Division Series from 2013-16. He also closed out series in relief in both 2016 and 2018, then helped close out the 2019 NLDS for the Nationals in one of the lowest moments of Kershaw’s career.
Last season with Kershaw injured, the Dodgers were down to three healthy and functional starting pitchers, and had to call in Richard Dean Anderson to patch together the rest of the postseason roster using a paper clip and a stick of gum. The Dodgers used Max Scherzer and Urías in relief last year in October, and Walker Buehler started twice on short rest. They all ran out of gas.
This year, however, the Dodgers have depth, in both the rotation — with Tyler Anderson and Tony Gonsolin, in addition to Andrew Heaney in a bulk relief role — and in the bullpen. There is no set closer, but the Dodgers have gotten saves from Evan Phillips, Chris Martin, Yency Almonte, Tommy Kahnle, Alex Vesia, and Brusdar Graterol.
“It’s the most talented ‘pen that we’ve had, or just kind of arms to prevent runs,” said Roberts, now in his seventh season as Dodgers manager. “The way it’s going to show itself in a shorter series, or even in a longer seven-game series, we’ll just have different options. You don’t have to run the same cast of characters out there.”
And you don’t have to overthink things. Let the Dodgers starting pitchers be starting pitchers, and pitch to their strengths.