Why have the Dodgers shortened their bench in the playoffs?

Through their first seven postseason games, the Dodgers have given at-bats to three position players off their bench: Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and Michael Young — no Tim Federowicz, Scott Van Slyke or Dee Gordon.

Why the short bench?

“It depends on how the game goes,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “These games have been telling us what to do. When your starting pitching is going deep every day, you don’t use pinch-hitters. Zack went 8, right? Kersh was 7 full. Ryu — when guys are going deep you don’t use pinch-hitters.”

The script changed on Tuesday. Dodgers starter Ricky Nolasco was removed after four innings. Schumaker pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot, then was removed from the game, so we could see more of the Dodgers’ bench tonight.

San Francisco Giants 6, Dodgers 4

Ricky Nolasco

Ricky Nolasco has allowed 17 earned runs in his last 12 innings, spanning three starts. (Associated Press photo)

If you looked beyond the final score, beyond Ricky Nolasco‘s struggles, you might have noticed the difference between the playoff team and the non-playoff team Wednesday night at AT&T Park.

San Francisco starter Barry Zito was removed from the game, likely his last as a Giant, after pitching five solid innings with the Dodgers trailing 5-2. Zito did not allow a hit until the fourth inning and he did not react well to being removed in the fifth.

A KCAL camera followed the left-hander as he stomped from one end of the dugout to another. Zito appeared to swipe at a water cooler and hastily discard a paper cup, nothing too crazy and nothing that was too difficult to comprehend. After signing a 7-year contract worth $126 million back in 2007, Zito mostly underperformed (ERA-plus of 86) while his teammates won the World Series twice. Wednesday night might have been his last chance to do something right in a Giants uniform; after 77 pitches, he was done.

Nolasco was Zito’s opposite. He labored through a 24-pitch second inning in which the Giants scored three runs, all on a bases-loaded triple by former Dodger Tony Abreu that might have been a grand slam elsewhere.

A two-run home run by Pablo Sandoval in the fourth inning, and an RBI double by Abreu in the sixth, stuck Nolasco with six runs (all earned) in 5 ⅔ innings. He was allowed to throw 95 pitches and pitch into the sixth inning, and it didn’t raise an eyebrow.

For Zito, there was nothing to be gained by his excellence beyond the moment, while giving Nolasco a chance to pitch out of his struggles meant something to the Dodgers, even if they ultimately lost.
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Dodgers draw Barry Zito in their penultimate game against the San Francisco Giants.

Barry Zito

Barry Zito is replacing Madison Bumgarner on the mound for the Giants tonight. (Getty Images)


Veteran Giants left-hander Barry Zito is starting in place of Madison Bumgarner against the Dodgers tonight in San Francisco.

The Giants’ decision to shut down Bumgarner after 31 (mostly good) starts should be a good one for the Dodgers. Zito (4-11) is closing the books on the worst of his 14 major-league seasons and almost certainly his last as a Giant. It’s an important start. It also closes the book on the landmark case against overpaying for a free-agent pitcher with a declining strikeout rate in the middle of his career. To wit: Zito never had an ERA-plus below 100 in seven seasons with the A’s. He signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with San Francisco at age 28 and never posted an ERA-plus above 100 as a Giant.

For the Dodgers, the implications are more subtle.

The starting infield of Michael Young, Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto and Jerry Hairston Jr. is auditioning for jobs in the playoffs. Of the four, Hairston (.370/.541/.630) and Schumaker (.368/.368/.526) have enjoyed considerable success against Zito, while Punto (.286/.286/.286) and Young (.236/.292/.315) have not.

Ricky Nolasco will make what is likely his final regular-season start for the Dodgers. Nolasco has struggled in his last two starts, including a Sept. 14 game against the Giants in which he allowed five earned runs in 1 ⅓ innings — the shortest start of his career. He might still be the Dodgers’ number-three starter in the playoffs depending on the matchup; no announcement has been made beyond Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke pitching games 1 and 2. A good start here might be his last chance to get untracked before October.

Here are the full lineups for both teams:
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Arizona Diamondbacks 9, Dodgers 4.

Don Mattingly

Don Mattingly wipes his brow after Adrian Gonzalez was ejected in the sixth inning of the Dodgers’ 9-4 loss. (Associated Press photo)

Hold the champagne.

The Dodgers still haven’t figured out this whole playoff-berth-cinching thing in the Don Mattingly era.

Their magic number is still two, and the division title could be theirs by this time tomorrow — before any other team in the majors wraps up a playoff berth — but the Dodgers endured a frustrating evening Wednesday in their first opportunity to clinch the National League West.
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Hanley Ramirez scratched from Dodgers’ lineup, undergoes MRI on left hamstring. Update.

Hanley Ramirez

Hanley Ramirez leads the Dodgers with a .342 batting average and a 1.024 OPS. (Getty Images)

Hanley Ramirez wasn’t at Dodger Stadium as his teammates filed out for batting practice Friday afternoon. The shortstop underwent an MRI exam on his left hamstring and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said the results might be available later today.

Update (6:15 p.m.) The Dodgers announced that Ramirez has an irritated nerve in his back, which was directly causing the tightness in Ramirez’s hamstring. He received a cortisone injection in his back and is expected to be available to play next week.

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Dodgers rest Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig, bat Michael Young fourth against Colorado Rockies.

Michael Young

Michael Young is 0 for 1 with one strikeout in his Dodgers career. (Associated Press)

Michael Young is batting cleanup in his first start for the Dodgers on a day off for both Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig in Denver.

Young, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies for minor-league pitcher Rob Rasmussen ahead of the Sunday waiver trade deadline, struck out as a pinch-hitter in the Dodgers’ 10-8 win yesterday. He becomes the first player since Jeff Conine in 2003 to make his first start for his new team in the cleanup hole after being acquired on Aug. 31.

This is not new territory for Young. The 36-year-old from Covina has appeared in 99 games at third base this season (compared to 24 at first base) and went 3 for 10 in three games as a cleanup hitter with the Phillies this year. His .325 batting average and .375 on-base percentage in 99 career games as a cleanup hitter are his career highs.

Puig was removed midway through Monday’s win with a stiff left knee. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters after the game that Puig would get the day off today, so that comes as no surprise. Somewhat of a surprise is the absence of Ramirez, who batted cleanup Monday and was the only member of the Dodgers’ starting lineup who didn’t get a hit.

One more pregame note: The Dodgers mentioned in their notes package that Matt Kemp is expected to travel to Camelback Ranch Glendale today to continue his rehab. Kemp has been out since July 24 with a sprained left ankle.

The full lineups for both teams:
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