That presents one short-term question for the Dodgers’ rotation and many more for the next two weeks, including the playoffs.
Friday’s starter still isn’t listed on the Dodgers’ home page, but the process of elimination makes Edinson Volquez the logical choice. Volquez pitched Sunday in Los Angeles and would be starting on normal rest Friday. Five other starters (Hyun-Jin Ryu on Monday, Zack Greinke today, Fife on Wednesday, Ricky Nolasco on Thursday and Kershaw on Saturday) are all accounted for this week, so Volquez figures to be the man on Friday if he’s healthy. It would be his second appearance against the Padres since they cut him in August.
Determining the Dodgers’ rotation over their final seven regular-season games beginning Sunday is another puzzle, one that’s complicated by the decision to push back Kershaw’s next start.
Either Greinke (on four days’ rest) or Ryu (on five) figures to start Sunday in San Diego.
Things get tricky from there. Try to follow along.
The Dodgers have an off-day next Monday. If Greinke starts Sunday, Ryu’s next start will come on no fewer than seven days’ rest Tuesday. That seems like an odd choice after Ryu already skipped his first September start with a bad back and has pitched poorly this season on six or more days’ rest. (He’s 1-3 with a 4.10 ERA in those six starts, compared to 12-4 with a 2.76 ERA on four or five days’ rest.) Relative to the rest of the Dodgers’ staff, Ryu really doesn’t need more rest.
There’s a Plan C in which both Greinke and Ryu could pitch on five days’ rest, if Ryu starts Sunday and Greinke pitches in a simulated or instructional league game Monday. Ryu could also pitch next Monday on six days’ rest. But that seems unlikely. After all, when was the last time a playoff-bound team told one of its projected playoff starters to start a non-real game on Sept. 23?
But how important will those final seven games be? Assuming the Dodgers clinch the National League West title one of these days, their first two playoff games will fall on Oct. 3 and 4, respectively, followed by an off-day before Game 3 on Oct. 6. The end goal, presumably, is to line up Kershaw and Greinke to start Games 1 and 2.
There are plenty of ways to achieve that goal. The most likely scenario sees Kershaw and Greinke pitching the first two games of the season-ending homestand against the Colorado Rockies Sept. 27 and 28. Both would be pitching on five days’ rest if Greinke starts Sunday, then have five days’ rest before their first playoff game. But again, if Greinke starts Sunday, Ryu would be forced to pitch in a non-real game, or on extra rest in San Francisco.
Nolasco would be pitching on five days’ rest if he takes the ball Sept. 25 in San Francisco. However, that would be his last start of the regular season. No problem there necessarily — Nolasco could pitch a simulated game Sept. 30, then have four days’ rest by Game 3, or five days’ rest by Game 4.
If the Dodgers choose to start Nolasco on Sept. 24 (Monday) and Sept. 29 (the final game of the season), it would conveniently put Nolasco in line to start Game 3 of the playoffs. But in that scenario, Greinke or Ryu couldn’t start their next regular-season game on fewer than seven days’ rest. One would be looking at pitching a non-real game.
The bottom line: While having Kershaw start Saturday might be in the left-hander’s best interest, it creates another problem. Maybe not a big problem, but one that will force Don Mattingly to get creative in lining up his rotation for the remainder of the regular season.
Update (5 p.m.): Via colleague Tom Hoffarth, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly confirmed that Greinke will start Sunday in San Diego. Ryu will pitch Tuesday in San Francisco on seven days’ rest, and Nolasco will most likely get the assignment the following day. That sets up Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu to pitch in that order on the final three days of the regular season when the Dodgers host the Colorado Rockies.