Julio Urias, not Clayton Kershaw, should start Game 4 of the NLDS

Who’s starting a game with the Dodgers’ season on the line? That’s the question everyone was wondering after the Game 3 loss to the Nationals on Monday afternoon.

The decision, in the past, would be a no-brainer: Clayton Kershaw. Last year, that was the case. This year, it isn’t so simple.

Saturday’s rain out is complicating matters. Because the Dodgers had to play Sunday, that means if it were to get to a Game 5, and Kershaw started Game 4, Rich Hill would be on short rest for a potential start. In theory, that wouldn’t be a big deal, but Hill’s struggles on Sunday and the underlying blister issues mean the Dodgers, realistically, couldn’t expect a long outing from Hill. If the game had been played on Saturday, Hill would be lined up for Game 5 on regular rest.

The same could be said for Kershaw in a possible Game 4. He’s coming off a start in which he labored mightily, and it was almost amazing he made it through five innings. But coming off the herniated disc that cost him 2 1/2 months in the middle of the season and his Game 1 struggle, Kershaw doesn’t look like the best option for winning the series.

This is where Julio Urias comes into play. The 20-year-old is a phenom, and he will, one day, be the ace of this staff. It might be a bit presumptuous to throw him into an elimination game at such a young age, but there is no better scenario for it to happen. Urias would be starting on plenty of rest (hasn’t started since Sept. 29) and wouldn’t be expected to throw six or seven innings. He’d be starting at home and he has faced the Nationals in Dodger Stadium already in his young career (June 22; 5 IP, 6 H, 2 R/ER, 1 BB, 6 K).

This is why Urias is on the NLDS roster: To be that unfamiliar look to an opposing team. To be the kid who could surprising his opponent because it doesn’t have the proverbial book on him. Oh, and he’s the best pitching prospect the organization has developed since Kershaw.

The Dodgers need to win two games to advance. They need to win one game to keep their season alive. They need to set themselves up in the best position to win two games. If Urias doesn’t start now, he doesn’t start in any playoff game in 2016 — unless you’re comfortable with starting him on the road in a Game 5 of a 5-game series. Starting him at home and having Kershaw available on full rest in Game 5 would be best.

The bullpen is already been thrust into action in this series. In the first three games, it has logged 13 2/3 innings, while the starters — Kershaw, Hill, Kenta Maeda — have just 12 1/3 innings. Throwing Urias in Game 4 and backing him up for even an inning with Ross Stripling (who has thrown an inning in each of the last two games) is the best play. If the Dodgers can get four or five quality innings out of a Urias/Stripling combination, that would be spectacular. That way, Kershaw is available to go as long as he can in Game 5. That might be five innings, that might be eight innings. But rest assured: If Kershaw goes on short rest, the Dodgers getting five innings out of him would be remarkable.

Urias is praised for his poise. I’m not sure his poise is completely ready for this, but the Dodgers need him to be ready right now. This was the decision they made when they included Urias on the roster instead of the likes of Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy and fellow rookies Jose De Leon and Brock Stewart.

No pressure, kid.

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.