The Dodger starting rotation, if you haven’t noticed, has been excellent. By one measure, you could even argue that it has been the most productive rotation in baseball. It helps when you have a pitcher who is on track to be one of the all-time elites, of course, but there’s also two guys who would be an ace on other teams, and two veterans who have been surprisingly productive at times this year. The rotation, pretty clearly, has been a strength.
And yet: I worry. I worry about the depth, because all five members of the current rotation have been on the disabled list since the start of last year, and I’m not at all convinced that Josh Beckett, dealing with “slight physical problems,” won’t land there himself soon if only to get him a rest before the second half. In fact, I will be surprised if he makes his next start, so let’s look at the organization’s current starting depth:
- Clayton Kershaw (awesome!)
- Zack Greinke (also awesome!)
- Hyun-jin Ryu (pretty good!)
- Josh Beckett (shockingly good in a way few think can be maintained!)
- Dan Haren (good at first, now dreadful!)
That’s a good, solid rotation — better than that, really. But is it hard to see Haren continuing to look awful, or Beckett being sidelined or facing regression demons, or any of the top three dealing with injuries? If we’ve learned anything about pitching, it’s that you can almost never expect the same quintet of pitchers to stay together for months at a time. Someone from that group is going to miss at least one start. (What of Paul Maholm, you ask? Nope!) If so, this is who’s available in Triple-A:
- Red Patterson. Likely the first man up, since he made a start earlier this year and seems to be in a perpetual state of Beckett red alert since their rotation days coincide, Patterson is fine for a fill-in start or two, but probably not much more, and while I’m not going to judge a guy on a single start on a cold day in Minnesota, I also can’t say his performance against a weak-hitting Twins team really filled me with confidence. Has thrown only seven innings in more than two weeks, and allowed seven earned runs yesterday.
- Zach Lee. The pitcher most fans would like to see, and still a Top-100 prospect entering the year, he’s still got a bright future, but he’s not exactly pushing his way to the big leagues right now. In his last five starts, he’s struck out only 10, which is pretty concerning. (That he’s walked 12 and allowed 19 runs isn’t better.) He’s still a valuable piece, now just might not be the right time.
- Stephen Fife. Last year’s hero has had a tough go of it in 2014, missing more than a month with arm trouble. He’s made two starts with the Isotopes since returning,
- Jeff Bennett / Carlos Frias. I’m including them here because they round out the Isotopes rotation at the moment and people would ask why I included just three names, but yeah, no. Bennett, 34, hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2009 and hadn’t even been in affiliated ball since 2011 before joining the Isotopes this year, and while he’s been surprisingly effective in 10 starts, things have gone terribly wrong if he’s in the bigs. Frias is just 24, but like Bennett, it’s hard to see him in the Dodger rotation.
What of Matt Magill, you ask? Magill made six starts for the Dodgers last year and eight more for the Isotopes, but after a May 12 start in El Paso, he was moved to the bullpen, where he’s made 15 consecutive appearances. That seems to be his new career path, so he’s no longer a starting option. There’s also Chris Reed, having a good year in Double-A Chattanooga.
What we have here is a few guys in Patterson and Fife (if healthy) good for a fill-in start here or there, and Lee shouldn’t be advanced. There’s no one here I’d feel comfortable with taking a rotation turn for weeks at a time, and if past history is any indication, that’s exactly what the Dodgers will need. This doesn’t automatically mean that the Dodgers should cash in Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Julio Urias for David Price — though I remain terrified that’s exactly what they’ll do — but it does mean it’s a concern. Crossing your fingers and hoping that pitchers with injury histories or playing over their heads continue all of that rarely works out well.