For the first time in a number of years, the starting rotation of the Dodgers appears to be set even before pitchers and catchers return to the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch.
Last year, fans had a good idea what would happen before spring camp began, but veterans Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir vowed to make a run at the starting five to prove everyone wrong. Ultimately, though, it was Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu who made up the 2018 starting crew—in that order.
This year, Walker Buehler will begin the season in the rotation, slotting in as the No. 2 behind Kershaw. It’s probably only a matter of time before he becomes the club’s ace. In due course, he’ll presumably break Kersh’s string of Opening Day starts that date back to 2011.
Regardless, whether it was intentional or not, all of the aforementioned pitchers spent time on the disabled list last year. Obviously, some of the injuries were legitimate; however, it isn’t difficult to conclude that boss Andrew Friedman frequently uses the DL as a tool to rest his players and extend their mileage deep into the season.
So, what happens when the Dodgers need another starting pitcher? How exactly does the depth stack up for 2019?
Although it hasn’t been ruled out completely, the rumors surrounding Cleveland ace Corey Kluber have fizzled to the point where they’re hardly being whispered at all. An acquisition of Kluber’s caliber would have been monumental, but because the Indians were aiming for the moon regarding a return package, the Dodgers will likely have to be content with what they have in-house currently.
Besides the arms already mentioned, there is a slew of swing men—Ross Stripling, Caleb Ferguson, Dennis Santana and Brock Stewart—who are all capable of taking the hill at the big league level. Yet, because spots on the 25-man roster will be at a premium, there’s no guarantee that Stewart will even be with the club come Opening Day, primarily because he doesn’t have any options remaining on his contract.
Additionally, there’s always Julio Urias. Undoubtedly, the 22-year-old southpaw will contribute to the major league squad at some point in the year, but how management will handle his 2019 innings limit remains unknown. As it stands, many are guessing that the team saves the bulk of his workload for the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs.
In any case, Ferguson ended up being one of the most dependable bullpen pieces during the stretch-run of the regular season, but it seems as if the team will continue to groom him as a starter, at least until there’s a glaring need in the big league relief corps.
Stripling was named to the 2018 National League All-Star squad for his first-half accomplishments, but failed to make any of the Dodgers’ rosters in the playoffs.
Still only 22-years-old, Santana made his big league debut last year but was shut down in June with a severe rotator cuff injury. Long term, there could be a possibility that he contributes as a late-inning reliever, but for now, chances are very good that he begins 2019 in the OKC rotation, serving as insurance to the parent club’s starting pitchers.
With about two full months remaining before Opening Day, while we have a pretty good idea about the way things are shaping up pitching wise, eight weeks is a lot of time for a few surprises and new player developments.