Who Earns Fifth Spot in Dodgers Starting Rotation?

frias_9wqyc5vo_lpzlfnb6(Photo Credit: mlb.com)

During the final days leading up to the beginning of the 2016 Cactus League season, very few questions remained regarding how exactly the Dodgers’ 25-man roster would be constructed to start the regular season. Today, however, with each passing hour, some of the best Dodger bloggers in the business are finding it difficult to keep up with every single developing story that affects the team’s prospective roster.

Anyone who has been around baseball long enough knows that spring training comes with its fair share of muscle strains, scratches, bumps and bruises. But for the Dodgers, who boasted one of baseball’s deepest rosters at the onset of spring camp, injuries have seemingly become an epidemic, and are the now the chief factor in determining which players will be sitting in the dugout come Opening Day.

The starting rotation has been at the forefront of many conversations among fans the second the Dodgers were eliminated from the playoffs in 2015. Initially, the hottest topic was how exactly the future of Alex Wood would play out, yet as the winter progressed, rumors surrounding Wood smoldered when news broke that Hyun-jin Ryu wouldn’t be ready to pitch at the start of the season.

The announcement involving Brett Anderson‘s back surgery certainly had the biggest effect on the impending starting rotation, but the sore elbow of Brandon Beachy and the strained oblique of Mike Bolsinger would also play chief factors in choosing the five starters. As it stands now, we know that Clayton Kershaw starts the opener against San Diego on April 4, followed by Scott Kazmir, Kenta Maeda and Wood, in that order.

Although manager Dave Roberts has stated the Dodgers would name a fifth starter before the season commences, perhaps the higher powers in the front office will realize that the best option is to carry four definite starters, then use a floating minor league option to fill the fifth spot when needed, while using the extra roster spot for an additional long man in the bullpen.

After needing a fifth starter the first time through the rotation on April 8, the Dodgers won’t need to utilize the fifth man again until April 16, when taking into consideration the number of off days. Hypothetically, if the club decides to tax the first four in the rotation, the team could elect to use a fifth starter only four times in the first 32 games of the season.

(Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo)

Still, with all that being said and considering the full gamut of the team’s injured pitchers, if the Dodgers do indeed decide to name a fifth man, it boils down to choosing either Zach Lee or Carlos Frias, with Ross Stripling still lingering as legitimate a dark horse candidate.

In one final audition to plead his own case for a roster spot, Stripling will start Tuesday afternoon against the Padres. In six total innings over three appearances so far this spring, he hasn’t surrendered a run, having allowed only one hit while striking out six batters. After having Tommy John surgery and sitting out all of 2014, Stripling returned and pitched 67 innings over 13 starts for the Tulsa Drillers last season and ultimately was added to the 40-man in November to protect him from Rule 5 status. He isn’t overpowering, but features a very nasty arsenal of breaking pitches much like Bolsinger.

Making an effort of his own to prove his value on the roster, Lee scattered eight hits in 4-2/3 innings against the White Sox last Saturday, allowing two runs while striking out none. Lee has appeared in four games this spring, giving up six earned runs and 15 hits over 12-2/3 innings, along with four strikeouts. Lee pretty much flashes right around average on the scouting report, except for his plus sinker, which is notably his go-to pitch, as made evident by his career ground ball rate in the minors.

And speaking of sinkers, Frias made a strong statement of his own against the Giants on Friday night, surrendering six hits (mainly grounders which found holes), while striking out three over four scoreless innings. Of the 12 balls put into play by the Giants against Frias, 11 of them were on the ground. He has appeared in six total games over the course of the spring (including two starts), having recorded a 2.45 ERA and a 1.091 WHIP over 14-2/3 innings of work. Frias also depends heavily on his sinker, while also having the ability to crank his four-seamer upwards of 97 MPH.

If anyone of the three has a better chance of making the roster over the others, it’s probably Frias, being that he’s had major league success in the past as a long man. If, for example, the team chooses Lee as the fifth man, it would be beneficial to have several capable long men in the bullpen, if only for the sake of early-inning implosions by Lee or Wood. While Frias, Joe Blanton and Louis Coleman are all competent long men, they could conceivably string together a bullpen start amongst themselves if ever needed by the club.

With Stripling on the mound Tuesday, Kershaw will take the bump Wednesday in a shortened start against the Indians, lining up Kazmir, Maeda and Wood to start in the Freeway Series. Roberts has already stated that Frias will follow Kershaw on Wednesday, while nothing has been announced yet concerning Lee.

Whichever route the Dodgers choose, health and readiness among all the potential starters will be of maximum importance as Opening Day quickly approaches. Considering the team has already dug into the trenches of that very valuable depth, any additional strings of injuries could prove to be extremely costly in the highest degree.

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