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Squeeze is on as Dodgers will go with four-man rotation

ST. LOUIS -- Charmed of late, despite an avalanche of injuries, the Los Angeles Dodgers will press their luck when it comes to the starting rotation.

With the benefit of off days on both Monday and Thursday, before and after a brief two-game series at home against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Dodgers will go with four starters for the immediate future. There is even an off day on Aug. 1 that could extend the four-man setup even longer.

The Dodgers pared down Friday afternoon by officially sending Julio Urias back to Triple-A Oklahoma City, replacing him with catcher/infielder Austin Barnes.

"I think that's the plan right now," manager Dave Roberts said of the four-man rotation. "I don't know if we're going to bring in another guy. I know it's not going to be Julio if we go with a fifth guy. I think we're going to stand pat with four. Things can change and obviously we have some guys that could potentially make that start for us (after the Tampa Bay series). You can still, with the scheduled days off, give them an extra day even without the fifth guy."

The four-man rotation of Brandon McCarthy, Kenta Maeda, Scott Kazmir and Bud Norris can handle things all the way until Aug. 5, which means a fifth starter won't be needed until an Aug. 6 home game against the Boston Red Sox.

By then, the Dodgers could have conceivably landed another arm, with the non-waiver trade deadline on Aug. 1. Speculation has centered on the Dodgers adding a top-of-the rotation starter by the deadline, probably one who could pitch multiple seasons with the club.

The Dodgers could use a front-line starter to help in the absence of Clayton Kershaw, who is on the disabled list because of a herniated disk in his lower back. There is no timetable for Kershaw's return, and he already has experienced one setback in his recovery.

In the interim, Dodgers pitchers have been able to hold strong. Since Kershaw last pitched, on June 26, Dodgers starters are an impressive 10-5, a nod to their ability to keep the club in games while the offense and bullpen do the heavy lifting. The Dodgers are 13-7 overall with Kershaw out.

The starters' major contribution since Kershaw's last start has been to hold opponents to a .246 batting average, third best in the National League over that span. Adding in the work of the bullpen, the Dodgers' pitching staff leads all of baseball with a .233 opponents' batting average since June 27, and also leads with 220 strikeouts. Their 1.15 WHIP is third best in baseball. Not bad for a group that is missing arguably the best pitcher in the game.

"You know, whatever comes our way we're going to weather," Roberts said. "We're going to find a way to get through it. We have so far."

Ultimately, the chances of the Dodgers making the postseason, much less making a deep October run, depend on the return of their staff ace.

"We're better with Clayton, everyone knows that," Roberts said.