LOS ANGELES -- With Clayton Kershaw’s long-awaited return on the horizon for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the National League West leaders are in an unbelievable run where they will use eight different starting pitchers in eight consecutive games.
Adding to the intrigue is that inside of that eight-pitcher run, the Dodgers are also in the midst of starting four consecutive rookies, with Kenta Maeda -- the second of those four -- taking the mound Monday evening against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
And if all of that is not intriguing enough, the Dodgers are doing all of this in September, while trying to protect their division lead.
It has been a wild roster puzzle for the Dodgers to construct all season, with their hand forced by the record-tying 27 players the club has put on the disabled list so far. So perhaps it only makes sense that the regular season draws to a close with the most interesting personnel moves of all.
The run of eight different starters started Wednesday, in the second game of a doubleheader at Colorado, when Bud Norris took the mound. In the just-completed three-game series against the San Diego Padres, the Dodgers sent Julio Urias, Rich Hill and Jose De Leon in as starters. De Leon earned the victory with six strong innings in his major league debut.
Thursday will be an appropriately placed day off so the Dodgers can gather their breath for the return of Kershaw on Friday at Miami. He will be the exclamation point on the eight-pitchers-in-eight-consecutive-games run.
Manager Dave Roberts said Monday that Kershaw continues to feel good after pitching in a minor league game Saturday at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga and that Friday’s start at Miami is a go. That game not only opens a three-game series against the Marlins, it is also the opener of a key 10-game road trip that also goes to Yankee Stadium and Arizona.
And it will be a revenge game of sorts for Kershaw. The left-hander was 11-2 in 16 starts to open the season before he came away with a lower back injury following his June 26 outing at Pittsburgh. Kershaw was not only the losing pitcher in that game against the Pirates, his only other defeat this year came April 26 to the Marlins.
The Dodgers will not continue the rest of the way with an eight-man rotation of course, so some decisions have to be made. Guys like Stripling and Urias have both been on unspecified innings limits so it is possible that Urias has already made his last start of the season, while Stripling’s could come Tuesday. Both are expected to be moved to the bullpen.
The Marlins series is the key. The heart of the rotation will be pitching in that series as Kershaw, Hill and Maeda represent the Dodgers' three probably lead dogs in an upcoming playoff rotation, assuming the Dodgers advance.
“I think the philosophy of having your best pitchers back-to-back-to-back, I think that is the formula,” Roberts said of his rotation at Miami.
Starting pitching depth is what the Dodgers talked about during spring training and it is being showcased now during the most important part of the season.
And to think, all of this doesn’t account for Scott Kazmir, who is close to returning from the disabled list, and Alex Wood who is also close to returning from the DL, but is expected to come back as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen.
By the looks of it, a Dodgers club that has relied on offense, a steady bullpen and an adept defense, albeit one with moderate range, could be getting the influx starting pitching it needed just at the perfect time.