Who Fills Empty Spot in Dodgers’ Starting Rotation?

(Photo Credit: Morry Gash/AP)

It almost feels like déjà vu all over again.

Last Tuesday, a brief scare occurred when starting pitcher Kenta Maeda took a line drive off his shin that left many pundits guessing who would fill the Japanese right-hander’s rotation turn should he miss a start.

Now, a few days after Maeda threw 107 pitches in a no-decision against Milwaukee, fans are guessing who will slot into the rotation spot vacated by the recently demoted Mike Bolsinger.

With a travel day scheduled for Thursday, the Dodgers could conceivably skip over the empty starter’s spot and have Maeda start against the Pirates on normal rest in the series opener on Friday. However, with a bullpen that’s been taxed recently, and weather forecasts predicting sultry conditions on both coasts into the weekend, a day off for the entire pitching staff could prove to be extremely beneficial.

The one thing that changed since we last explored the Dodgers’ starting pitching depth chart is the presence of Zach Lee. The 24-year-old right-hander was dealt to Seattle for infielder Chris Taylor over the weekend, and may be on the doorstep to the Mariners’ rotation sooner than most expected. Regardless, there are still plenty of pitchers on the Dodgers’ farm ready to slot into a big league spot.

Hard-throwing righty Frankie Montas was recently placed on Triple-A Oklahoma City‘s 7-day disabled list with a skin irritation stemming from rib resection surgery over the winter, but because his stint on the DL can be retroactive to June 17, he could be considered to fill the rotation vacancy should the Dodgers decide to go that route.

Depending on the workload of the relief corps over the next several days, the team may settle on a bullpen-type game to cover the empty slot, with Carlos Frias eating the majority of the innings. Frias was called to the big league roster with the Bolsinger demotion, and has thrown five innings or more out of the OKC bullpen on two occasions this season.

Although not yet featured on the 40-man roster, right-hander Brock Stewart could be a longshot to fill a rotation void sometime over the summer. Stewart seems to impress more and more with every start, and has already recorded a victory across three levels of the Dodgers’ farm in 2016, registering wins with Rancho Cucamonga, Tulsa and Oklahoma City. In his most recent outing against New Orleans on Sunday, Stewart threw seven strong innings, surrendering only one earned run on five hits and no walks while striking out 10 Zephyr batters.

Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu are still off the radar, both still being several weeks away as they are scheduled to throw in Triple-A starts in the middle of the week.

Other pitchers who could potentially fill the big league rotation spot are Jose De Leon, Nick Tepesch and Jharel Cotton. The 24-year-old Cotton is already on the 40-man roster, and last appeared on Monday night for Oklahoma City, going six full innings and taking the loss against New Orleans. He gave up four earned runs while surrendering five hits and three walks, but struck out eight in the 4-1 defeat.

Tepesch pitched eight innings last Friday night, allowing only one run and three hits while striking out eight batters. The 27-year-old righty also went 2-for-4 at the dish with an RBI, as Oklahoma City downed the Zephyrs, 6-2.

Still on the road back from a sore shoulder, De León continues to get stretched to greater lengths. On Saturday, he threw four innings while giving up only one earned run and two hits. Since returning from the disabled list earlier in June, De León has 15 strikeouts in ten innings of work over three starts.

Neither Tepesch or De León are listed on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster.

And because 19-year-old rookie Julio Urias was placed on a predetermined innings limit at the beginning of the year, the club will be forced to fill yet another vacancy in the rotation over the coming weeks.

Interesting days lie ahead, indeed.



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