By Jon Weisman
Two critical factors in favor of Julio Urías starting today’s Game 4 of the National League Division Series fell away Monday.
No. 1 was that the Dodgers lost, making today’s game an elimination game. No. 2 was that the Dodger bullpen, already on its heels after Saturday’s postponement and Sunday’s 3 2/3 innings, was forced to throw 131 pitches Monday after Kenta Maeda’s fourth-inning exit.
Whatever you might speculate about Clayton Kershaw’s durability at this point, his typical outing is longer than a typical outing for the 20-year-old Urías. With that in mind, the Dodgers decided to put their best pitcher out there today.
One whom, it must be added, has actually thrived on three days’ rest, with a 1.89 ERA in 19 such innings over three starts.
“With Clayton, we had complete certainty from the training staff (and) doctors that health wasn’t a factor,” Dave Roberts said. “Obviously, it’s a game we need to win. One, Clayton gives us the best chance to win, and two, he gives us the best chance to go deeper into a game.”
Basically, the Dodgers need to play 18 innings of winning baseball over the next three days. The Dodgers will start attacking those innings with Kershaw, and then use the remaining 10 pitchers on their staff (except, one supposes, for Kenta Maeda) to cover the rest.
“With today, it’s all hands on deck, and the guys in the pen have been used a lot (while) Julio is fresh,” Roberts said. “So he’s going to be in the pen today. Depending on how this game plays out, we’ll make the (Game 5) decision.”
Urías could still start a Game 5 if he’s not used today, but either way, that game becomes a bullpen game with Urías, Rich Hill and the rest able to contribute, in whatever order.
Roberts acknowledged that a bullpen game is easier to manage at home, but the lack of rest in the past two games changes the equation.
“With the guys that we have on the road, they pitch well at home or on the road. In Game 5, it’s just about shortenting the game, and finding in our opinion the best matchups and giving us a chance to win. To have the guys that we have at our disposal available and rested in Game 5 puts us in a good spot.”
None of this matters if the Dodgers don’t score. Roberts talked about what he’s looking for from the offense against Nationals starter Joe Ross.
“It’s as simple as being aggressive in the strike zone,” Roberts said. “When we’re in the strike zone, there’s quality contact, and when we’re not, there’s a lot of swing and miss. It applies to Joe, it applies to all the other guys we have in the pen.”
“Our guys, they’re prepared. You never know how a game’s going to play out, but as far as the preparation, the mindset — we don’t scare off very easily. We’re prepared. We’ve got to win a game today.”