Early Signs Could Be Pointing Towards Dodgers’ Opening Day Rotation Plans

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(Mandatory Credit: Chris Carlson/Associated Press)

Five weeks is a whole lot of time. But even though there’s still more than a month of Cactus League play to help the management crew of the Dodgers answer questions about the club’s prospective 25-man roster, early revelations in camp may be indicating the current pattern of thinking when it comes to the team’s starting pitching hierarchy.

It doesn’t take a huge amount of common sense to deduce that barring injury, the first three pitchers up in the rotation are resident ace Clayton Kershaw, southpaw Rich Hill and Japanese righty Kenta Maeda. After those three, there is indeed a bit of an open competition. However, the most recent decisions of which remaining pitchers take the ball on certain days could reveal a potential game plan.

Despite contending that he’s in superior physical condition, southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu still hasn’t been slated to make an official Cactus League start. Ryu is hoping to make a monumental comeback after missing nearly a season and a half from having left shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2015.

In spite of positive reports stemming from his most recent bullpen sessions, the 29-year-old is being relegated to simulated settings on the back fields at Camelback Ranch.

“Ryu’s in a good place, but to get him in a controlled setting makes a lot of sense,” manager Dave Roberts recently said of Ryu’s scheduled sim game. “It will allow him, instead of piggybacking, to go through his routine rather than come into a game on the road.”

Even when April eventually rolls around, it’s probably safe to assume that Ryu won’t play into the rotation equation early, as the Dodgers will likely take things slow again this spring, making sure he is 100 percent or close before even being considered for the rotation. Extended spring training for Ryu is almost certainly a realistic option.

Speaking of extended spring training, if one of either Scott Kazmir or Brandon McCarthy is throwing effectively towards the end of March with no apparent injury issues, 20-year-old lefty Julio Urias is likely to be left behind in Glendale in an attempt to budget his usage in 2017. The whole idea behind this theory is conceivably limiting Urias’ miles early, trying to save his more impactful innings for the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

Urías started the Dodgers’ fourth Cactus League game of the spring against the Rockies on Tuesday, surrendering two singles and a run while also striking out two opposing batters. He eventually ended his day with a subsequent short session of pitches in the bullpen.

As far as Kazmir and McCarthy are concerned, Kaz says he feels great and is scheduled to start Wednesday’s contest against the Giants, while McCarthy threw two simulated innings to hitters on Sunday and is expected to start Friday’s split-squad game against the Diamondbacks. In between the two, Kershaw will start his second Cactus League game of the spring on Thursday against the Indians.

“He looks good. He’s executing pitches,” Roberts said of McCarthy. “He worked real hard this winter. Mentally he’s in a great place. There are really no misfires.”

Still, the fact that McCarthy’s first start of the spring wasn’t in the original turn suggests that management isn’t spinning its wheels as far as rushing the 33-year-old righty back into the Dodgers’ rotation. To speculate even further, if the staff decides to proceed with an extra amount of caution, it’s conceivable that McCarthy could be held back in Glendale at the beginning of the year on the disabled list, opening a door for lefty Alex Wood to start the season in the rotation. This seems fitting enough, only because Wood is presumably one of the Top 5 arms in the organization when his mechanics are in tune.

So, after sifting through all the subtleties through only the first week of camp, it wouldn’t be a bad guess to assume that both Kazmir and Wood begin the year in the rotation, based on current expectations and levels of health. And after that, the possibilities are endless.

Yet, in the greater scope of things, that’s only a shot in the dark, because five weeks is a whole lot of time for a bunch of other things to occur.

Stay tuned.

(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)
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