Originally published by DodgerBlue.com
When the Los Angeles Dodgers reported for Spring Training in February, they had an excess in starting pitchers to select from for the final spot or two in their Opening Day rotation. At the time, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and David Price were the only guaranteed locks.
On multiple instances during the offseason, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman indicated Julio Urias was poised to slide into the rotation as well. Under that premise, the likes of Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, Jimmy Nelson, Ross Stripling and Alex Wood were left to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation.
The Dodgers quickly moved to officially name Urias and Wood the fourth and fifth starters, respectively. However, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic dramatically changing the landscape, an opportunity was created when Price opted out of playing the 2020 season.
The Dodgers have not officially named Stripling as the replacement for Price, but matters certainly are trending in that direction. Gonsolin was optioned to the club’s alternate training site at USC on Saturday.
Meanwhile, based on how the Dodgers lined up pitchers during their intrasquad games and heading into three exhibitions, their Opening Day rotation order has largely taken shape. Kershaw, of course, has long been scheduled to make a ninth career Opening Day start.
After him, the Dodgers appear to have it ordered Stripling, Urias, Wood and Buehler. Stripling was on the mound for Saturday’s simulated game at Dodger Stadium — their final workout of Summer Camp.
Mitchell White is starting Sunday’s exhibition game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Urias is due to take the hill in the two-game finale Monday. Wood will throw a simulated game that day as well, and Buehler is facing batters on Wednesday.
Considering Urias and Wood are pitching on the same day, they could swap in order come the regular season. The Dodgers also have an off day for travel
If there is one certainty, manager Dave Roberts has made it clear the club will begin the season with a traditional five-man rotation.
Kershaw changing it up
This could finally be the year Kershaw incorporates a changeup with more regularity. The pitch has been one he’s been unable to capture much of a feel for, but Kershaw did get some over during Summer Camp.
“He’s going to certainly throw it in games,” Roberts said. “I don’t know percentage, but I know that each time he picks up a baseball and works on it, he gains more confidence. Just to have something off of his fastball, slider and curveball, I think the changeup certainly plays if he has confidence in it.
“It’s still going to be a lower percentage pitch but I absolutely expect him to use it.”
Roberts added he was pleased with Kershaw’s final outing before the regular season, calling it “really encouraging.”
Stripling seemingly gets wish
Stripling has embraced his role as a swingman for the Dodgers, so long as it comes with receiving consideration to slide into the rotation whenever there is a need. He certainly appears to have gotten his wish and also made it a relatively easy decision for the Dodgers by pitching well during scrimmages.
Urias facing big opportunity
Urias is heading into a regular season with the Dodgers as a full-fledge starting pitcher for the first time in his young career. Performance will dictate whether or not he retains the role throughout the sprint that will take place this year.
For his part, Urias continues to maintain he is willing to pitch in any capacity that best suits the team.
Like Kershaw and Stripling, Wood kept his arm moving during the MLB hiatus and that has become all the more valuable. The southpaw should be stretched out for a normal start (in terms of length) his first time out in the regular season.
Buehler has encouraging debut
Buehler is behind each of his fellow rotation mates due to deciding not to throw throughout the time between Spring Training and Summer Camp. He did not appear in a game until Friday, and Buehler will only get one more chance to face hitters — in a simulated situation (three innings) — before the regular season begins.
Roberts nonetheless is content with Buehler’s progression. “It went well,” he said of Friday’s game. “For him to get through two innings, manipulate the baseball, and today he said he feels good. That’s really encouraging for all of us.”
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