The team has scheduled a simulated game for 5 p.m. this afternoon at Dodger Stadium. Since it’s expected to rain the rest of the afternoon, there is a chance they will work out indoors. There are more television screens inside, so that might not be a bad thing.
That’s because 5 p.m. is also the scheduled start time for Game 5 of the Division Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals. If the Cardinals win, Game 1 of the NLCS is Friday in St. Louis. If the Pirates win, Game 1 is Friday in Los Angeles.
And until a winner is determined, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly isn’t likely to commit to the 25 men he wants for the next round.
Mattingly revealed his starters for Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS in an interview with Dan Patrick this morning, saying “(Zack) Greinke Game 1, and we’re looking at (Clayton Kershaw in) Game 2. We’re going to have discussions on Game 3. It may depend on who we play and how we match up there. We’ll go over the roster this afternoon a little bit.”
What changes, if any, could be in store?
The health of Andre Ethier will go a long way toward answering that question. Because Ethier couldn’t play center field because of an injury to his left ankle, the Dodgers kept Scott Van Slyke on their playoff roster as a possible backup to Skip Schumaker. Dee Gordon also took fly balls in center field throughout the series.
Yet Gordon and Van Slyke only saw action once — as pinch runners in the ninth inning of Game 2 in Atlanta on Friday. To some degree, that calls their value into question, particularly if Ethier is cleared to play the outfield.
Another two players on the Dodgers’ first-round roster didn’t play at all in the series. Tim Federowicz‘s spot as the backup catcher isn’t in jeopardy; he’s on board in case of an injury to A.J. Ellis. Pitcher Ricky Nolasco‘s spot is another matter.
Nolasco was scheduled to start Game 4 of the Division Series on Monday. In the end, he didn’t pitch and might not have pitched the game under any circumstances, but the Dodgers will almost certainly need four different starting pitchers in the coming series.
Consider the risk of using a three-man rotation among Greinke, Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu: If Greinke starts Games 1 and 4 (on Oct. 15), he will be pitching on three days’ rest, something he’s done twice in his career — once in 2007 and again in 2011. If the series goes the distance, Greinke would have just three days’ rest before Game 7 on Oct. 19.
Mattingly proved this was no obstacle on Monday, when he started Kershaw on three days’ rest for the first time ever. But that was only after a late-night discussion among the manager, Kershaw, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and general manager Ned Colletti. Would Greinke be able to clear the same hurdles?
On the other hand, Nolasco hasn’t started a game since Sept. 25, when he lasted 5 ⅔ innings in a loss at San Francisco. He pitched a scoreless inning of relief four days later and hasn’t appeared in a game since. But among the short list of alternatives to Nolasco for a fourth starter, none are obvious.
Right-hander Edinson Volquez hasn’t pitched since Sept. 26 against the Giants and fared slightly better than Nolasco (5 innings, 4 hits, 2 earned runs, 3 walks, no decision). Like Nolasco, he’s pitched once out of the bullpen as a Dodger and has started nearly his entire career.
Chris Capuano‘s last starting assignment was Sept. 6, a game in which he strained his groin and was forced to miss the next three weeks. When he came back it was in relief, and Capuano has pitched three times out of the bullpen since Sept. 27. The veteran left-hander didn’t allow a run in any of the games and was the winning pitcher in Game 3 against the Braves.
A more likely determining factor here is the opponent.
The Cardinals were simply miserable when facing left-handed pitchers during the regular season, with a .672 OPS that ranked ahead of just two National League teams. The trend has continued in the small sample size of the postseason. The Pirates ranked second in the NL this season with a .735 OPS against lefties, making Nolasco or Volquez a more desirable choice for the fourth starter’s job (assuming the Dodgers use one).
If the Pirates win tonight and everyone is healthy, count on the Dodgers keeping the same 11 pitchers they had for the Division Series.
If the Cardinals win tonight, it presents an interesting dilemma. Does Mattingly play the percentages, something he seems to prefer, and make the left-handed Capuano his fourth starter? If so, who swaps places with Capuano in the bullpen: Nolasco, Volquez, or someone else — say, a career reliever like Brandon League or Peter Moylan?
Maybe the scenarios have already been worked out among the Chavez Ravine braintrust, but don’t count on the big reveal until tomorrow.