Rotation inconsistencies continue to vex Dodgers

Dodgers pitcher Nick Tepesch allowed five earned runs in four innings against the Pirates on Friday. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

PITTSBURGH -- Perhaps it was fitting that the newest Dodger, Nick Tepesch, made his debut with his new club in the shadow of the Roberto Clemente Bridge.

Spanning a distance from here to there is exactly what Tepesch has been asked to do. Specifically, he got the call to bridge the distance from Mike Bolsinger's last start, before he was sent down last weekend, to the return, in two weeks or more, of guys such as Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Consider this catwalk still under construction after Tepesch lasted just four innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates and allowed five runs on seven hits. He did not walk a batter. The Pirates walked away with an 8-6 victory at the start of a four-game series to end the Dodgers' six-game win streak.

Afterward, Tepesch’s locker was still full, but his immediate future remained unclear.

"We haven’t decided," manager Dave Roberts said of the plan for Tepesch moving forward. "Tonight we’re going to talk about it and see what is best for our club. Nick has made 40 major league starts and performed at Triple-A for us, so I think we’re going to decide here tonight or tomorrow morning what is best going forward."

Postgame, Tepesch certainly didn’t sound like a guy who was given any promises.

"Just take it each day, do my work the next day and get ready for my next start," he said when asked if he had been told of an immediate plan.

Low on options, the Dodgers might have to give Tepesch another chance next week at Milwaukee. Ryu and McCarthy will be fortunate to return by the All-Star break, which starts in a little over two weeks.

Two of Tepesch’s four innings were scoreless, and he had a perfect fourth inning before Scott Van Slyke hit for him in the top of the fifth. The four-run second inning was the problem, as the Pirates strung together three hits with no outs and a pair of RBI hits with two outs.

"I just made some bad pitches up in the zone, and they took advantage of it," Tepesch said. "I had some counts where I was ahead and didn’t good make enough pitches, and it hurt me."

Right fielder Yasiel Puig missed a cutoff man in the inning, but it would not have changed the scoring if he had been more fundamentally sound.

If Tepesch stays in the rotation until the break, that could mean as many as three more starts for the 27-year-old. The Dodgers no doubt hope he has more innings such as the one he closed with Friday, and the recent past seems to indicate that it can be better. Tepesch was a combined 7-2 with a 3.66 ERA on the minor league level this year, including a 3-0 mark with a 2.00 ERA at Triple-A Oklahoma City that was convincing enough for the Dodgers to give Friday’s outing a chance.

Of course, had prospect Frankie Montas not aggravated a rib injury that has already cost him most of his season, perhaps he would have been the one to take Friday’s start.

Montas' second rib injury is just another in a long line of starting pitching maladies the Dodgers have had to contend with. The list includes not only Ryu, McCarthy and Montas but also Alex Wood, Brett Anderson and Brandon Beachy. Even Bolsinger started the season on the disabled list.

Clayton Kershaw has been his typical, dependable self. Kenta Maeda has been solid in his debut season in the major leagues. Scott Kazmir has been up and down, but he has made his starts. After those three, there has been little to no consistency.

"We’ve tapped into our depth with the starting staff, I’ll say that," Roberts said. "We’re all out there trying to compete. Obviously, having to carry an eight-man pen, it’s not ideal. But these guys are giving what they’ve got. We’ve got to get length form our starters consistently, and anything outside of that is not a formula to sustain itself, to sustain winning. I’ll leave it at that."

That eight-man bullpen is there because lately, the Dodgers had been using starters such as Bolsinger and Julio Urias, who have pitch limits each start.

The Dodgers are actually among the National League leaders in innings from their starters, with 434, but that is because Kershaw has logged a major league-best 115, or roughly one-fourth of the innings when he is one-fifth the rotation.

As good as the bullpen has been, holding an opponent scoreless every night is a difficult task, especially when there are nights such as Friday, when the relievers have to combine for five innings. Two runs were given up to the Pirates by the otherwise dependable Louis Coleman.

"It’s just managing the pen, and I have to be conscious of their usage and putting guys in the right spots," Roberts said. "It does make it a little easier when a guy can go seven, but it’s not from a lack of effort or preparation. But when you look, sitting here in June and going through the rest of the season, you have to rely on your starters.

"I know that, the starters know that, and outside of Clayton, I know that they know that. I think those guys have taken the challenge upon themselves."