Dodgers’ rotation bending but not breaking … yet

The Dodgers have acquired massive amounts of depth since the end of last season, and we’ve sung the praises of the front office for that. Even though that depth was tested a lot earlier than expected this year, so far the depth has generally held strong. But now it’s August, and the depth — both quantity and quality — is bending to the point of breaking. Quite frankly, it’s actually surprising the team hasn’t collapsed into itself already.

With the non-waiver trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, it’s safe to say the Dodgers’ rotation is cracking a bit. They acquired Rich Hill, who appears to be Sunday’s starter, but the myriad of injuries to the starting pitching staff has been almost unprecedented.

Here’s what the opening day rotation looked like:

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Scott Kazmir
  3. Kenta Maeda
  4. Alex Wood
  5. Ross Stripling

Kershaw and Wood are now injured. There’s no timetable for Kershaw’s return, while Wood is set to maybe return as a reliever in September. Here’s a list of every pitcher to start a game with the Dodgers this season (in order of most starts):

Just like they drew it up in spring training — Maeda and Kazmir being the healthiest Dodger starters.

Of the 12 pitchers to start for the Dodgers this season, four have spent significant time on the disabled list (Kershaw, McCarthy, Ryu, Wood), three are rookies (Stewart, Stripling, Urias), one has been acquired via trade (Norris, might also end up on the DL), one has been traded (Bolsinger) and one has been designated for assignment (Tepesch). Maeda and Kazmir have been the only constants.

Hill and Brett Anderson will be added to the list soon, but there are still more guys who could be in line for a start later this season — namely, Jose De Leon.

De Leon got off to a slow start this season health-wise, as he missed the first month of the season with an ankle injury. He started one game on May 3, then missed another month with shoulder inflammation, but he has been really good this season. In all but one of his 11 outings, he has allowed three or fewer runs — and five of those have been one or zero runs. JDL had been a strikeout machine, whiffing 36.8 percent of the hitters he faced through his July 20 start. But in his last two outings, he has two strikeouts … total. In 8 1/3 innings, that works out to a 5.1 percent strikeout rate. I’m honestly not sure what to attribute that to, but one of the outings was a 1 1/3-inning outing in which he got rocked against New Orleans. Either way, with all the injuries to the rotation this year, the team just might have to dip into Triple-A for another starter at some point before the end of the season, so hopefully he gets right in a hurry.

Ideally, De Leon finishes the season in Triple-A and contends for a rotation spot next spring. He’s 24 in two days and is praised for his maturity, so that isn’t an issue. The issue is workload, as he’s had just 51 2/3 innings due to the injuries after tossing 114 1/3 last season. That number should have bumped up to almost 150 this season, but that obviously isn’t going to happen. He isn’t on the 40-man roster, and I don’t foresee the Dodgers starting his clock early (i.e., he’s more likely to be a September call-up than anything), but at this rate, who knows?

Carlos Frias also exists, barely, but he’s on the minor-league DL and he has just 36 1/3 underwhelming inning for OKC this season. Still, if the Dodgers need a guy for 3-4 innings, he might be an option, provided he’s healthy.

But that’s part the problem: The Dodgers have a ton of short-outing starting pitchers. Outside of Kershaw’s (who might not pitch again this season) 7.6 innings per start, the next-best guy is Maeda at 5.7. Wood is at 5.6, while Kazmir is at 5.5. For what it’s worth, Hill averages 5.4 innings per start, but that includes his last start when he was credited with a game started without throwing a pitch. If you take that out, it bumps up to 5.8 innings per start, and if you take out his first start of the season in which he lasted just 2 2/3 innings, he’s at 6.1 IP/GS. That might be part of the reason he was attractive to the Dodgers, but he has to be healthy for any of that to matter. Damn blisters.

The bullpen has been taxed, which is why the Dodgers acquired Jesse Chavez and Josh Fields at the trade deadline. They aren’t sexy names by any means, but they just need someone — anyone — to take some innings if the starters are not going to consistently go six or more innings.

There isn’t much else the Dodgers are going to be able to do to upgrade the rotation in August. They’re pretty low on the waiver priority for any high-dollar pitchers, and odds are, the high-dollar pitchers are probably not that good. And no, James Shields or Edinson Volquez (both 5.8 IP/GS) aren’t answers.

No matter what happens the rest of this season, the rotation should be a priority in the offseason for being fixed. That’ll probably include a trade or two because the Dodgers have six starting pitchers under contract for 2017 (assuming Kazmir doesn’t opt out), not including the youngsters like De Leon, Stripling, Urias, etc.

This would be a lot easier if Clayton Kershaw were healthy.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.