GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Even when the Los Angeles Dodgers seemed to unofficially announce their starting rotation Sunday, more questions arose about who will pitch in the first five games of the season.
The latest wrinkle came not long after it was announced that Zach Lee was being optioned back to minor league camp. That seemed to signal that Mike Bolsinger would be the rotation’s fifth man to open the season, following starters like Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir, Kenta Maeda and Alex Wood.
Less than 30 minutes later, though, Bolsinger was a scratch from his Cactus League start against the San Diego Padres, when he reported discomfort in his side. The Dodgers announced the injury as left side abdominal tightness, while manager Dave Roberts mentioned an oblique.
“I threw a couple of pitches on the mound before the game, threw a curveball and kind of felt it,” said Bolsinger, who was hesitant to label it an oblique injury exactly. “I threw another pitch to try and see if it was something little and it ended up hurting again so I kind of called it off right there on the spot.”
Bolsinger knew what was at stake, both with his chance at nailing down a rotation spot, and his possibility of hurting himself further if he continued to pitch. So instead of just powering through the injury for the sake of making a start that he figured the Dodgers needed to see, he took the less risky route.
“For me personally, I think it’s bad timing,” he said. “Hopefully I can come in here, work with the trainers and get this thing taken care of in the next week.”
Dodgers starting-pitching candidates are falling by the wayside and fast. Brett Anderson has already been lost for 3-5 months with a back injury. That moved everybody else up the depth chart, but Brandon Beachy is now dealing with elbow tendonitis. Even Wood had a start skipped this spring because of tightness in his left forearm.
Not that top prospect Julio Urias was legitimately being considered for a starting role at the tender young age of 19, but he also had to fight through groin discomfort early in camp.
That doesn’t even mention Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was expected to return in May after shoulder surgery last year, but went through a lengthy downtime period after making his first two spring bullpens. There is some conjecture that Ryu won’t be back until June now, although he has resumed bullpen sessions again.
Roberts was asked if he is ready to cry “uncle” over all of the pitching injuries.
“You win with pitching and defense,” Roberts said. “You look at where we were at when we started camp and where we are at right now, and it’s a little frustrating. But every team goes through it in some capacity. It’s another obstacle, but we have to deal with it.”
Where Bolsinger is concerned, even relatively tame side injuries can be tricky. If it is diagnosed as an oblique injury, that typically would require a lengthy stretch without discomfort before starting up a throwing program again. More will be known about the severity of Bolsinger’s injury in the coming days.
“At this point, I’m not too worried about it at all,” Bolsinger said. “I can still twist and turn and do all that stuff. I’ve talked to guys who have had it before and they couldn’t even move so I’ll take the good in that.”
Lee is now expected to be brought back from minor league camp to pitch. Beachy’s tendonitis will be reexamined. Carlos Frias, who had been targeted for a long-man role out of the bullpen, will also be considered as a starter. And Bolsinger's injury will be closely monitored, of course.
Joe Blanton even pitched three innings in a split-squad game across town against the Milwaukee Brewers. Would the Dodgers be willing to build up the 35-year-old’s innings and pitch count in the final two weeks of spring training to make him a starter for at least the early part of the season? He did make four starts last year for the Kansas City Royals, and 20 for the Los Angeles Angels in 2013.
The Dodgers do seem reluctant to speed up the major league arrival of top prospects like Urias and Jose De Leon, but everything is on the table now.
“You know, circumstances kind of always lend themselves to some change,” Roberts said. “But I haven’t talked to our guys [coaches and development staff]. After what happened with Mike today, we’re going to kind of talk through some things.”