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Clayton Kershaw rescues Dodgers from pitching roster crunch to end road trip

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Clayton Kershaw has pitched better games this season than his win over the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon — well, only two specifically — but his seven innings in the series finale in Milwaukee might have been the most impactful to the Dodgers this season.

Heading into that game, most of the Dodgers bullpen was unavailable. Noah Syndergaard suffered a nasty cut on his right index finger and couldn’t stop the bleeding enough to pitch beyond one inning on Tuesday, requiring seven relievers to cover the final eight innings.

Brusdar Graterol on Tuesday threw 31 pitches in parts of two innings, Shelby Miller needed 30 pitches to get his five outs, and Justin Bruihl threw 25 pitches in his five-out appearance. Phil Bickford got four outs in pitching for a second straight night. Evan Phillips got the final out by pitching for the third time in four days, the first time he’s done the latter this season and just the fifth time by any Dodgers reliever to date in 2023.

Normally, this is the type of situation in which a fresh arm would have been in the clubhouse by game time on Wednesday, helping pick up the slack. But a few factors made it increasingly difficult for the Dodgers to bring another pitcher up.

“There was a lot of talk about it. Just kind of who we could bring back, the timing of a player potentially landing at 4:30 this morning here in Milwaukee, what we could get from Wander Suero,” manager Dave Roberts told reporters in Milwaukee before Wednesday’s game, per SportsNet LA. “Layering it out also with some length guys, and roster stuff we kind of had to think through, we just felt at the end of the day, certain guys have to step up to get through today.”

Having eight pitchers on the injured list, plus Caleb Ferguson on the paternity list, limited the available pitchers to even call up, if they went that route.

The only healthy pitchers on the 40-man roster in the minors are Gavin Stone, Alex Vesia, and Andre Jackson, all of whom haven’t yet spent 15 days on optional assignment.

Remove Stone for a moment — we’ll get to him later — since he started and pitched into the sixth inning on Tuesday. The only way the Dodgers could have recalled one of Jackson or Vesia on Wednesday would be if they replaced a player going on the injured list or some other such list (like the paternity list, which LA is quite familiar with this year).

Syndergaard to the IL might end up happening anyway, and pulling the trigger on Wednesday would have allowed for one of Jackson or Vesia to return to the majors. But the Dodgers would still need another starting pitcher either Monday or Tuesday, and while Stone is the obvious option in that scenario, he was optioned to Triple-A on May 5 and can’t return until May 20 unless replacing someone going on the IL.

The more likely scenario is to use Syndergaard’s injured list stint — if that is in fact his fate — as the move to bring Stone back up to the majors.

The Dodgers also could have added another pitcher currently not on the 40-man roster. Nick Robertson has a 2.87 ERA in the offensive haven of the Pacific Coast League and a 40.3-percent strikeout rate for Oklahoma City, to name one. While the 40-man roster is currently full, Jimmy Nelson could easily be transferred to the 60-day injured list since his minor league rehab was halted after only one game, and such a move would only officially extend his potential return to May 29 at the earliest. Though it’s understandable if the Dodgers wouldn’t want to make that move just yet.

The point is the Dodgers’ options to add a pitcher were limited before Wednesday’s game. The pending Thursday off day I’m sure made the decision to stand pat even easier, with any potential cost of a non-move likely only affecting one game.

But thanks to Kershaw, and then Suero — the only reliever who didn’t pitch Tuesday — taking down the final two innings on Wednesday, the Dodgers got the absolute best-case scenario out of a hairy situation.

Now they can instead focus on covering all the innings coming in the stretch of 13 straight game days and 19 out of 20 that starts Friday. Kershaw made that transition much, much easier.