Brandon McCarthy’s torn UCL means it’s Zach Lee time

Well, it was the worst-case scenario with Brandon McCarthy after he left Saturday’s game. He has a torn UCL and probably needs Tommy John surgery. That would put him out until the All-Star Break next year, and that’s even a little optimistic.

And a word to the wise, Brandon: Don’t mess around with trying to rehab the injury. It doesn’t work. I know surgery of any kind is a big deal, but this is really a no-brainer.

McCarthy is out for the season, Hyun-Jin Ryu is still on the road to recovery from his shoulder impingement (probably not back for at least another month, at best) and Brett Anderson — he who cannot miss bats right now — is the Dodgers’ No. 3 starter at present.

It’s Zach Lee time.

Lee was the Dodgers’ 1st-round pick in the 2010 draft — a pick many thought was a punt by Frank McCourt. The Dodgers ended up signing him to a $5.25 million bonus (spread out over five years, of course) and would have been a Top-15 pick if not for the threat of going to LSU to play quarterback. Still just 23, Lee is off to a fast start with the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

  • 0.95 ERA
  • 5.7 H/9
  • 1.9 BB/9
  • 8.5 K/9
  • 2.50 FIP
  • 1.64 GO/AO

Say what you will about the Pitcher’s Hell known as Albuquerque, Lee is thoroughly enjoying not having to pitch there. He isn’t just pitching well because of the new environment. He’s missing bats much more than he has at any time in his minor-league career (and make no mistake, he isn’t a strikeout pitcher), which could say something about his stuff coming back.

When he was drafted, he wasn’t projected to be the 1a to Clayton Kershaw, but many saw a potential front-line starting pitcher (ala Chad Billingsley when he was coming through the ranks). All his stuff backed up a little bit (or didn’t take that projected step forward — whatever your preference) and he lacked some confidence after a rough 2014 with the Isotopes. But he’s a smart kid who knows how to pitch, and he’s adapting to his environment and trying to become more of a ground ball-oriented pitcher, which bodes well for his long-term success.

His fastball has touched 94 MPH on multiple occasions in his three starts this season, and he works in the 88-92 MPH range. If he’s locating, that will play in the majors. He also gets some movement on his 2-seamer that helps him get ground balls. There is also now separation between his curveball and slider (which has more cutter-like action these days). Because of that, his curveball takes a step forward and the cutter is something he can use against either-handed hitter. He also has an underrated changeup.

The stuff looks like it’s back, and with the investment the Dodgers have made in him, it’s time to see if it’s going to pay off.

That isn’t to put any undue pressure on Lee, because he cannot be expected to come in and supplant the veterans ahead of him in the rotation. The opportunity is here, as I’ve said I wouldn’t want to see Lee in the rotation unless it was for an extended period of time (i.e., not a spot-start). With McCarthy’s injury and Ryu still out, this is the perfect opportunity for Lee.

Yes, the Dodgers have some other solid options in Scott Baker (who was solid against San Diego), Mike Bolsinger (who was great in his spot-start last week) and Joe Wieland (who has been equally as good in Triple-A), but Lee’s pedigree and potential outweigh what Bolsinger and Wieland can bring.

Baker will stick around for a bit, as he’s slated to start again later this week. But there is a reason the pitching-desperate Yankees let him go in spring training (hint: He’s not that good). I liken Bolsinger to a good utility player. If you play him just enough and at the right times, he can be awfully effective. If you over-extend him and expose him, he won’t be nearly as effective (especially as a 2-pitch starting pitcher). Wieland is a former top prospect, so I’m betting he’d fare better in an extended look. Brandon Beachy is lurking, but I’m still not expecting him back until after the All-Star Break. This is truly Lee’s time.

The current front office did not draft, pay and develop Lee, but I don’t see the argument against seeing what he can do. I will admit that I’m biased. I haven’t stopped backing Lee, even after an atrocious 2014. I want to see him succeed. If now isn’t the time for Lee to get his shot, I’m not sure when is.

Also, if you’re thinking down the road a couple months, this is an opportunity for the Dodgers to showcase Lee for a potential trade. Unless he takes off, odds are he isn’t going to be a long-term fixture in the Dodger rotation. But if he shows he can be a quality No. 3-4 starter in the majors, that would only do wonders to his trade value. Of course, if he shows true mid-rotation stuff, maybe the Dodgers would keep him around. Andrew Friedman isn’t exactly itching to trade young, cost-controlled players without getting a great return.

Lee isn’t going to make us forget about the potential McCarthy had in this rotation, and he won’t prevent the Dodgers from acquiring a starter such as Johnny Cueto or David Price. But there is a reason he was a 1st-round draft pick, and he has almost 550 minor-league innings pitched with varying levels of success. With a void now in the Dodger rotation (and many options to fill it), this should be Lee’s time.

Also, dem stirrups!

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. 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.