Seemingly, the starting rotation of the Dodgers continues to get healthier. Many fans of the team were curious to know how management would handle an overcrowded starting five, and they got their answer when Rich Hill was relegated to the bullpen just days before the All-Star break. Now, with the rotation appearing to be at full strength, followers are contemplating whether or not there’s enough firepower to make some noise in the playoffs.
Hill was assigned to relief duty when the club finally reinstated young righty Walker Buehler, who made his return from a rib microfracture in the opener of a three-game set against the Angels on Friday. Pundits thought this was the move the Dodgers would make, although the team showed hints of possibly utilizing a six-man rotation through the break. Apparently, though, it was Hill who was the most inconsistent of the entire crew, especially when considering his most recent start when he gave up four runs and took the loss against the Padres on Tuesday. Yet, by no means has Hill been throwing horribly—the situation is a perfect example of just how well the other members of the crew have been pitching.
Alex Wood, who was facing scrutiny from many critics in the early portion of the season, will take the mound on Saturday opposite Angels’ lefty Andrew Heaney. After going 1-5 with a 4.43 ERA over his first 13 starts, Wood has since posted a 4-0 record with a 2.64 ERA over his last five appearances, giving the impression of being close to where he was at this time last season.
On Wednesday, righty Kenta Maeda struck out nine batters for the fourth game in a row as the Dodgers walked away with a 4-2 victory over the Padres. Over those four games, Maeda’s ERA is a minuscule 1.64, which has now shrunk to 3.13 on the year.
But, while both Wood and Maeda have shown over the last few seasons that they are fantastic relief options, it was Hill who was given a bit of a so-called breather because he has been out-performed by the others.
And many followers of the club were holding their collective breath watching staff ace Clayton Kershaw throw after his return to the rotation from a lower-back strain. That is, up until his most recent start against the Padres on Monday, when he tossed 89 pitches, resulting in six scoreless innings and a victory. Kersh now appears to have no restrictions or limits, as he’s 2-0 in the four starts since his return with a 2.25 ERA. But perhaps more importantly, the velocity on his four-seam continues to rise. He was sitting right around 92 MPH on Monday, which could be a sign that the three-time Cy Young Award winner may be returning to his former self.
Nevertheless, perhaps the biggest starting pitching story in 2018 has been the emergence of right-hander Ross Stripling. His first-half has been so impressive that he was selected to the National League All-Star squad on Wednesday. After Thursday’s victory against San Diego, the 28-year-old is 8-2 with a 2.08 ERA and 108 punchouts over 95-1/3 innings of work.
“It’s been a crazy season,” Stripling said after being told about his inclusion to the NL All-Star roster. “Still a long ways to go. But to be an All-Star midway through is special, and something that I’ll remember forever.”
Regardless, as far as optimizing the rotation goes, fans are probably looking at the club’s best available options right there—Kershaw, Stripling, Maeda, Wood and Buehler. If everyone’s healthy and throwing to their potential, many followers of the team believe that particular starting five is good enough to take the team deep into the playoffs, even without any help in the form of an addition at the summer trade deadlines.
In the meantime, with some DL stints and several rest periods being allotted, there will indeed be a few roster changes during the stretch run of the season; however, whether or not the aforementioned starting rotation has enough strength to get the job done remains to be seen.