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Ryan Pepiot, Michael Grove battling for rotation spot with Tony Gonsolin sidelined

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What was obvious earlier in the week, as Tony Gonsolin’s left ankle sprain was more significant that it first appeared, became more plain on Friday. Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove are battling for a spot in the Dodgers rotation to start the season.

Manager Dave Roberts said Friday of Gonsolin’s return from a sprained ankle, “It’s gonna be a slow process,” per Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times.

More from Roberts, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register:

But Roberts is ready to acknowledge that the choice of a replacement – if needed – comes down to two young right-handers, Ryan Pepiot or Michael Grove.

“I think that’s fair,” Roberts said. “With those guys having some experience already (at the major-league level), seeing them as starters – having one of those guys fill that void is probably likely.”

Both Pepiot and Grove made their major league debuts last May within a five-day span, and both struggled with consistency in their first stint in the majors. Pepiot had trouble with command (a 16.9-percent walk rate) and throwing strikes. Grove hard a hard time putting hitters away, with an 18-percent strikeout rate.

This spring, both pitchers have found success attacking the strike zone.

Grove pitched three scoreless innings on Wednesday against the Mariners, needing only 26 pitches. He’s faced only two batters over the minimum in Cactus League play, allowing only a solo home run in his six innings so far.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I can here to get myself as good as I can be by opening day, and let the chips fall where they may,” Grove told reporters Wednesday, per SportsNet LA.

Pepiot pitched through traffic for three scoreless innings of his own on Thursday against the A’s, and this spring has also allowed only one run in six innings. But perhaps more importantly, the right-hander has only walked one batter while striking out nine.

Pepiot started seven games last year, and Grove started six.

Andre Jackson is also on the 40-man roster, and struggled in Triple-A last season — 5.00 ERA, 17.1-percent walk rate — before September success in limited major league relief duty. Jackson has also thrived this spring, with six scoreless frames and seven strikeouts, including three scoreless innings on Friday.

All three of Pepiot, Grove, and Jackson will probably be needed at some point this season.

The Dodgers had 10 pitchers start at least five games last year. They’ve had at least seven pitchers start five games in each of the last 10 full seasons, with an average of 8.5 over those years. Even in the 60-game 2020 campaign, the Dodgers had six different pitchers start at least five games.

Having a more experienced 25-year-old Pepiot and 26-year-old Grove at the ready for however long Gonsolin is out underscores the importance of starting pitching depth.