When taking a cursory glance at the current starting rotation of the Los Angeles Dodgers, many who follow the club closely couldn’t be happier with the performance over the first five weeks of the 2017 campaign, despite the frequent shuffling of a few players because of several minor injuries.
As a unit, the combined starting pitching ERA registers at 3.43, which is good enough for second in the National League. More impressively, the rotation’s OBPA of .297 leads the NL. In addition, Dodgers’ starters have a combined K/9 of 9.49 and a WHIP of 1.19, both of which are far and away the best among all rotations on the Senior Circuit.
Yet, lying underneath all the productive statistics are a few critical questions. Can the rotation stay relatively healthy throughout the year? If so, will management use a “revolving door” of phantom-type injuries to ensure that the staff stays healthy and fresh over the course of the entire campaign? And finally, is there enough talent amidst the current staff to hand pick a three or four-man crew that has the potential to succeed in the playoffs?
So far, the Dodgers have used seven different starting pitchers over the first five weeks of play. Outside of a few small bumps along the road, staff ace Clayton Kershaw has lived up to his billing, and appears to be poised for yet another outstanding year. Alex Wood, who began the season in the bullpen due to overcrowding issues in the rotation, seems to be next in line in terms of effectiveness. Outside of a small blip against the Diamondbacks in mid-April at Chase Field, Wood has been near perfect. And the fact that his new approach on the bump has sharpened his command and elevated his fastball velocity well into the mid-90s further solidifies the evidence for him to remain part of the starting crew moving forward.
Veteran Brandon McCarthy was fantastic during his first four starts of the year, but dropped off a bit during his most recent outing against the Phillies on April 29. He was skipped over for the opener of the Pirates series on Monday, and ultimately made his way to the 10-day disabled list with shoulder issues. Some media outlets labeled the injury as common soreness, while a few others reported that there was even a dislocation. Either way, McCarthy himself said he was fine, but will take part in a controlled, simulated game over the next few days just to stay stretched out.
McCarthy’s impairment comes just in time to open a door for southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu to rejoin the rotation after sitting out 10 days with a baserunning bruise on his hip. Among all the Dodgers’ starters, Ryu is one of only two with an ERA above 4.00, however, the effectiveness of his off-speed arsenal suggests that he could be trending back towards the seasons he put together in 2013 and 2014.
At one point, Japanese righty Kenta Maeda‘s ERA had ballooned to a lofty 8.05, suggesting that he was in danger of being bumped out of the rotation, at least temporarily. Regardless, Maeda persevered, putting together two very fine starts against the Phillies and Padres. He saw his ERA shrink down to 5.81 and still maintains a spot in the rotation, at least for now.
20-year-old Julio Urias is fresh and throwing well, although many believe he’s trying to be a bit too fine with his locations rather than attacking aggressively. He has a spectacular 0.84 ERA, but the eight bases on balls surrendered during his first two starts indicate the need for improved command.
Seemingly, Rich Hill‘s name has become synonymous with the word “blister.” If his fingers are healthy, he’s certainly one of the top-four rotation options on the team, but it remains to be seen if Hill can continue to throw his deadly curve ball with enough finger pressure and spin to prevent any type of skin irritation.
Looking ahead, it’s probably safe to say that barring injury, Kersh, Wood and Urias may be the stalwarts of the rotation for the next few months, while a carousel of minor phantom-type injuries could be used to keep the other four arms both rested and fresh.
And while it’s definitely too early to start thinking about conceivable player personnel movement the end of July, it may not be too soon to consider what type of prospective capacity the existing crew has for a quality run come October — especially when thinking about recurring blisters and the lack of a true No. 2 starter.
It probably sounds absurd even uttering the thought in the month of May, but 29 years is indeed a long time, and it could be well worth the investment of bringing in a proven, high quality arm to provide just a little bit more of an autumn push. In spite of that, five months may very well be just enough time for the existing crew to take shape and form a formidable rotation just in time for the postseason. Only time will tell.
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