Expect Dodgers to lean on bullpen, again, this week

Clayton Kershaw had the longest outing of any Dodger pitcher this postseason on Sunday night. He went seven innings, matching his career-longest outing in the playoffs.

In fact, he owns the three longest outings of any Dodger pitcher in the postseason — 6 2/3 innings last Tuesday and 5 innings on Oct. 7. An overlooked aspect of last night’s start was the fact every reliever not named Kenley Jansen got the night off. Hoping to stick with that plan could be problematic for the bullpen going forward, as they will almost certainly be expected to pick up the innings slack left by the other starters.

That is, unless the good Rich Hill shows up on Tuesday. Hill has seven innings of work this postseason spread over two outings. His second outing was justifiably short (2 2/3 innings) since it was Game 5 of the National League Division Series, he was on short rest, and he got hit on the wrist by a comebacker, and despite the shorter outings, he’s missing a ton of bats anyway — 37.1 strikeout percentage, 13.9 swinging strike percentage. But, he’s issuing too many walks (11.4 percent; 7.5 percent in the regular season), allowing some hard contact (90 MPH exit velocity; 87.7 MPH in the regular season) and, unsurprisingly, some runs (6.43 ERA; 2.12 in the regular season). This is the time for Hill to make the adjustments necessary and give the Dodgers at least five strong innings tomorrow. It might be an arbitrary number, but any outs the starters can record puts less stress on the bullpen, and chances are they’ll need the rest.

Julio Urias figures to start Game 4, but he isn’t a guy who is ready to go extended innings just yet in his career. If he can get through the Cubs’ lineup a couple times, the Dodgers would gladly take that, but it can’t exactly be counted on yet. The Game 5 starter? To be determined. If the Dodgers are up 3-1 or tied, I think it’ll be Kenta Maeda, but if they’re down 3-1, it’ll be Kershaw. Either way, the bullpen will be needed in that game, too, as it wouldn’t be realistic to expect even five innings out of either Urias or Maeda at this point and Kershaw would be on short rest.

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The bullpen has stepped up all season, and they’ll probably have to again in the coming days. Aside from Jansen or Joe Blanton (Game 1 notwithstanding), guys like Pedro Baez, Grant Dayton and Luis Avilan have been good (Baez in extended action, Dayton and Avilan in limited action) during the year and need to continue that. Josh Fields exists, but he’s easily the 12th man on the pitching depth chart, and while his stuff is intriguing, his command/control is frightening. Still, with the Cubs right-handed hitters, he may need to get important outs if things don’t go according to plan, so hopefully he’s staying sharp and ready.

Arguably most importantly, these next two or three games could be huge for guys like Ross Stripling and Alex Wood. Stripling is a starting pitcher doing a good job out of the bullpen when called upon, while Wood is a starter who hasn’t started since May — and the plan was always for him to come back as a reliever. Both of these guys could be tasked with throwing multiple innings this week, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Stripling and Wood log three or four innings each over the next three games. It will, obviously, be situation-dependent, but Stripling threw just 10 pitches on Saturday and Wood hasn’t pitched since Oct. 2. Both of them should be relatively fresh, with just a little concern about Wood being rusty.

All that is why getting more mileage out of Hill is important. If he has another outing of less than five innings, the bullpen will have to shoulder a more significant burden again. And if it does, it’s in pretty good shape to do so right now, but the innings continue to mount.

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.