McCarthy lasted just 1⅔ innings on Saturday, walking five Pittsburgh Pirates batters and hitting another before leaving with what was labeled as right hip stiffness. No disabled list stint was announced Saturday, but Brett Anderson is expected to take McCarthy's place on the active roster before Sunday's game.
The Dodgers did manage to rebound from two separate deficits on Saturday to win going away 8-4 over the Pirates and pull within a half-game of the first-place San Francisco Giants, pending the outcome of Saturday night's game in the Bay Area.
As bad as McCarthy's outing was Saturday afternoon, it was only the continuation of a theme for the right-hander, who has run into a wall in his return from Tommy John surgery. He tried to work on his mechanics in two bullpen sessions this week, but nothing seemed to change.
McCarthy walked a combined 15 batters over his past three starts, pitching just 8⅓ innings in that stretch. He walked five batters in each of his starts against the Colorado Rockies (Aug. 2), the Boston Red Sox (Sunday) and the Pirates. McCarthy apparently injured himself fielding a bunt in the start at Colorado.
"It was early in the game in Colorado," McCarthy said. "Then I think it's more game intensity that it really affects it. Bullpens you can kind of get through. Even when you think you're working at a high intensity, you're actually really low. I think it's more game situations."
Asked repeatedly before Saturday if he was having physical issues, McCarthy didn't quite come clean, no doubt not wanting to make it seem as if he was making excuses. But the revelation of the hip problem gives more clarity to the situation. It explains why McCarthy has gone from a promising return (two scoreless outings in his first three starts) to a suspect one.
"It's something that has been kind of nagging and that might have impeded his mechanics," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "I think Brandon wants to compete and wants to be out there and make his starts. Obviously, he didn't have that command, so we have to deal with it; and I think we will continue to do tests and have a decision tomorrow."
As fate would have it, now that McCarthy is likely headed to the DL, the Dodgers are suddenly awash with options.
The club's pitching merry-go-round was about to pick up a whole new set of passengers. Anderson, Bud Norris and Rich Hill all are expected to return in the upcoming week. And while none of those pitchers is named Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers have managed to do more than stay afloat since their staff ace went down with a back injury.
Roberts admits this season has been a revolving door for the pitching staff.
"Yeah, it has, but I think that each guy who has been given a chance has competed well and has given us a chance," Roberts said. "We're excited [Sunday] to have a chance to, No. 1, win a series, and get Brett in the mix for 2016."
Kershaw's bad back -- and unknown timetable for a return -- was supposed to sink the Dodgers. But with an improved bullpen and red-hot offense, the Dodgers have been able to close on the Giants' once eight-game lead in the National League West.
Kershaw, who went on the DL on June 30, had a flat-ground throwing session on Saturday. His return date remains unknown, however. Instead, the Dodgers will march on with the same strategy they have used in compiling a 24-15 record since Kershaw last threw a pitch: Get whatever they can from a starter and refuse to get bucked off of the horse.
The bullpen donated 7⅓ scoreless innings to the project in following McCarthy's five outs on Saturday, with Julio Urias earning the victory for his 2⅔ innings of work. The Dodgers even managed to walk away a winner, despite giving up a combined 11 walks. The last time they walked 11 batters in a game was in 2009 at Colorado; they won that game too.
"There was obviously a lot of traffic today, but we certainly limited damage," Roberts said. "Julio, Joe [Blanton], guys made pitches, Kenley [Jansen] at the back end. They made pitches with guys on base and put us in a position to win the baseball game. There were a lot of good things. The at-bats and the way we ran the bases today. Again, Julio, you talk about player of the game and what he did giving us length today, again huge."
It helps that the offense has continued to produce. It scored at least one run in each of the first six innings on Saturday, as Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick each had two doubles and Joc Pederson had two extra-base hits, crushing his 17th home run of the season in the sixth inning.
How are the Dodgers winning without their best player? McCarthy was talking about all he has gone through in coming back from Tommy John surgery, but there were some overreaching team themes in there too.
"Nobody has a blueprint for this," McCarthy said. "Nobody can sit down and say exactly what this is and what this is. It's just obstacles, and you have to figure out a way to get over them. There's a lot of questions that you guys will have that there will be no way to answer."
Win today and hope Kershaw returns before all is said and done this year: That is how the Dodgers have been operating since the end of June and how they will continue to function the rest of the season.