Heading into the weekend, skipper Dave Roberts insisted that the battle for the final two spots in the Dodgers‘ starting rotation remained open to four pitchers — Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Alex Wood and Scott Kazmir. However, after Kazmir’s attempt to gain leverage in the race by facing the Rangers on Sunday, it’s probably safe to assume the competition has been narrowed to three.
The original plan was for Kaz to take a stab at lasting a full five innings, but in the end, the veteran southpaw was only able to endure three frames of work while throwing 66 pitches. In all, he allowed three hits, including a home run off the bat of Mike Napoli, and three earned runs. Kazmir also walked five batters, hit another and threw one wild pitch. And the worst part was that his heater topped out at only 87 MPH, mostly sitting in the 82-84 range. After his outing, he was seen in the Dodgers’ bullpen “dry” throwing — obviously trying anything possible in hopes of rediscovering his mechanics. At the end of the day, some type of stint on the disabled list seems to be certain for the lefty, at least at the very beginning of the season.
In the meantime, McCarthy, who now appears to have a stronghold on the No. 4 spot in the rotation, faced a much easier task on Sunday, trying to stretch his workload to a full six innings in a simulated setting on the back fields at Camelback Ranch. After the sim game, McCarthy will likely throw in one more shortened tune-up later next week to make his final preparations for the regular season.
Looking ahead to Monday, Ryu seemingly controls his own destiny in the battle for the No. 5 spot, as he will try to complete five full innings of work against the White Sox. So far during 2017 Cactus League play, the 29-year-old native of South Korea has thrown nine full innings over three appearances, surrendering only five hits and one earned run while striking out a total of eight opposing batters. If he survives Monday’s affair looking sharp and feeling healthy, he’ll surely get the nod over Wood, who appears to be destined to open the season as the headliner in the Oklahoma City rotation.
An important thing to remember about Ryu is that according to his contract, he can refuse any assignment to the minors or extended spring training. So if he isn’t headed to the disabled list for whatever reason, he’s pretty much guaranteed a spot on the big league 25-man roster.
Starting Wood at OKC makes sense, mainly because he has plenty of options remaining on his contract. Since he has already proven himself to throw effectively in relief, though, he could be an option for the bullpen, especially if the Dodgers decide to begin the season with an eight-man relief corps. But keeping in mind the injury pedigrees of Rich Hill, Ryu and McCarthy, it may be logical to have Wood stretched out as a starter, waiting for the phone to ring at Oklahoma City when a need arises on the big league roster. And that need will indeed come, perhaps sooner rather than later.
As for the remainder of the week, Wood will throw against the Reds and lefty Julio Urias will start against the Padres in split-squad games on Tuesday, while resident ace Clayton Kershaw will make his final appearance of the spring against the Mariners on Wednesday.
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