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Ryan Pepiot gets his shot in the Dodgers rotation

MLB: Game One-Miami Marlins at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers will call up Ryan Pepiot to pitch the bulk of the innings, and possibly start Thursday’s series finale against the Guardians in Cleveland, and to finally have the spot in the rotation that he earned during spring training.

He’ll be called up as the 27th player for the second game of the Dodgers’ impromptu doubleheader Thursday, manager Dave Roberts told reporters in Cleveland after Wednesday’s game was suspended after just two innings of play. That game will be finished first before the regularly scheduled series finale can begin.

Pepiot did quite well in his season debut on Saturday, called up to take the bulk innings in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, one that was scheduled just the day before due to Hurricane Hilary, necessitating a flight from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles last Friday evening. He pitched five innings, allowing only one run, with five strikeouts and a walk.

As the 27th player up for the doubleheader on Saturday, Pepiot’s time on the roster was temporary. But with Tony Gonsolin out with elbow/forearm inflammation, it was also clear that the Dodgers would need another starter, and that Pepiot’s name was at the top of the list.

That’s what happened in spring training, too. When Gonsolin went down in March with an ankle injury, Pepiot beat out Michael Grove for the Dodgers’ fifth starter spot and won a spot on the opening day roster. But an oblique strain felt in his penultimate spring start that just wouldn’t go away meant he started the year on the injured list.

At the time, Pepiot and the Dodgers were confident they caught the injury fairly early, and that he’d be back soon. Only the injury lingered, and didn’t go away. So much so that further testing was required, and showed the strain spread to his intercostal muscle and up into his ribs.

Pepiot was out for over three months, not starting a rehab assignment until July 14. In the meantime, opportunities abounded in a Dodgers rotation besieged by injuries. Gavin Stone, Bobby Miller, and Emmet Sheehan made their major league debuts, and thus far have combined for 25 starts and 132 innings. Fellow rookie Grove started 12 times and pitched 64 innings, while Pepiot waited.

“I’m excited and happy for those guys. I watched every game at home, and seeing guys who came up through the system get their opportunity,” Pepiot said Saturday. “It’s a huge moment everyone has.”

Pepiot is also still technically a rookie, not yet surpassing 50 career innings or 45 days of major league service time. But he’s also a different, better pitcher than he was last year.

The changeup was Pepiot’s calling card as he rose through the minor leagues, but he struggled throwing strikes once he got to the majors. We saw this with fellow changeup maven Stone in his brief stints with the Dodgers this season; when you’re unable to consistently throw strikes, it’s easier for hitters to lay off pitches.

“Last year, there just wasn’t a lot of quality strike throwing. The changeup was a ball out of the hand a lot for me, outside,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after Pepiot’s start at Dodger Stadium on Saturday. “We heard reports in his rehab that it was much better, and that’s what we saw today. You could see by the swings that they weren’t seeing him.”

Pepiot walked 10.8 percent of his batters faced in the minors in 2021, and 9.8 percent in 2022. When he got to the majors last year, he walked a whopping 16.9 percent, with 27 walks in 36⅓ innings.

He only walked one on Saturday, and in six starts for Oklahoma City walked five batters for a 5.4-percent rate. Staying in the strike zone has helped all his pitches.

“I thought his slider was his best pitch today,” catcher Austin Barnes said Saturday. “It’s always kind of been a distant third for him, but he was throwing it to the outside corner and it was hard. It was a good, true slider.”

Walker Buehler hasn’t yet started a minor league rehab assignment, so he’s not particularly close to returning just yet. Pepiot could get a decent runway here to start some games, which has been a long time coming for the right-hander.

Even if the runway includes some more roster machinations. As the 27th player on Thursday, Pepiot will simply be returned once the game is over without having to use an option, and can be called up again when his turn comes up next in the rotation, which is likely next Wednesday back in Los Angeles against the D-backs.

Thursday is Pepiot’s 11th major league game. Four of them have been as the extra player in a doubleheader.