While there have been many relative developments sprinkled throughout the daily news feeds of the Dodgers this spring, certainly none have been bigger than which prospective players will be used in the starting pitching rotation to begin the season.
As it stands, barring injury or ailment, it’s probably safe to assume that Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Trevor Bauer will be among the starting five, with Kershaw set to make his ninth career Opening Day start against the Rockies in Denver.
However, how the remainder of the rotation eventually fills out remains to be seen. Among the players in the running for the final two spots are lefty veteran David Price and a group of youngsters that includes righty Tony Gonsolin, southpaw Julio Urias, and right-hander Dustin May.
Another name that might be in remote contention is 31-year-old righty Jimmy Nelson, who has thrown seven full innings of Cactus League ball without allowing an earned run.
Regardless, Price was seemingly bumped out of consideration by many fans for his willingness to throw in relief, perhaps providing the club with a somewhat valid loophole to eliminate him from contention.
“Whatever makes the 2021 Dodgers better, I’m all for it,” Price said in early March.
After opting out of the entire 2020 shortened season as a health precaution, the 35-year-old Price seems to be throwing fine during his spring preparations. Over 6-2/3 innings in three appearances, he has allowed two earned runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out four batters.
What’s more, Price’s fastball velocity has been impressive in camp, typically sitting in the 93-94 MPH range. This figure is actually a few ticks higher than his 92 MPH average in 2019, a season that ended with him having wrist surgery to remove a cyst.
Price has not thrown a regular season game in relief since the 2017 season when he missed more than three months with elbow problems. During that campaign, he started 11 games, posting a 5-3 record with a 3.82 ERA and 63 punchouts over an even 66 innings. That same year, he threw out of the bullpen five times, allowing just three hits over 8-2/3 scoreless innings while striking out an impressive 13.
Over the course of his 12-year big league career, Price has thrown more than 2000 regular-season innings as a starter with a 3.34 ERA. As a reliever, he has logged just 18-1/3 innings, but his peripherals are sparkling, as made evident by his career 0.98 bullpen ERA and 0.60 WHIP.
Indeed, Price has not made a living throwing in relief, but his numbers indicate that he might potentially feel comfortable appearing out of the bullpen in any situation.
Still, all three of Urias, Gonsolin and May have shown they can be effective as part of the club’s relief crew.
Urias was instrumental in holding down the fort during the Dodgers’ World Series Championship last season. Six of Gonsolin’s 20 career regular-season appearances have come out of the bullpen. May has made 26 regular-season appearances with a dozen coming in relief.
Undeniably, it’s tough to make this type of roster decision simply based on Cactus League play without taking into consideration what’s best for the team over the long haul. Even so, all four candidates have thrown tremendously well in the chances they’ve been given so far.
With 10 days remaining before the season opener, anyone’s guesses are as good as anyone else’s, but right now my gut is saying that Price and May will join Kershaw, Buehler and Bauer in the rotation, at least for the beginning portion of the season.
Either way, with the inclusion of one or maybe two of the aforementioned names, the Los Angeles bullpen could definitely be a valuable strength to start the year.