By Jon Weisman
Carlos Ruiz and Kiké Hernández will make their first 2016 postseason starts for the Dodgers, on a day the team confirmed that Clayton Kershaw will be the starting pitcher in Sunday’s Game 2 and Rich Hill in Game 3 at Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Ruiz had a two-run homer and RBI single off the bench in the National League Division Series, while Hernández will be making his 2016 postseason debut, taking the Chase Utley/Charlie Culberson spot at second base.
Dave Roberts cited Hernández’s athleticism, versatility and “the potential slug” for bringing him back into active duty.
“It was a tough decision with Charlie, but I think (Kiké) could pay a huge benefit for us,” Roberts said.
Otherwise, the Dodgers have their regular postseason lineup against a left-handed pitcher, with Yasiel Puig and Howie Kendrick subbing for Josh Reddick and Andrew Toles.
“Yasiel didn’t play a whole lot in the Division Series, and I think that’s just kind of the way it played out with starters and who I decided to go with off the bench,” Roberts said. “Howie started the same amount of games but got more at-bats as far as coming off the bench. But, yeah, I’ve got Yasiel hitting fourth. So he’s a big part of what we need going tonight. I trust his defense. I know he’s prepared. He’s got a really good look in his eye.
“I think, going forward, I haven’t made decisions on the lineup for Games 2, 3 or 4, but he’s ready to go, he’s been working hard, he’s waited for this moment, so I expect him to play well tonight.”
Kershaw, who threw seven pitches to save Game 5 of the NLDS in what substituted for his regular bullpen session (“number of pitches-wise, probably pretty close to the same — intensity might have been just a hair different,” Kershaw said) will make his NLCS start on what otherwise would be four days’ rest.
“I feel fine,” Kershaw said. “I feel good. I’m excited. It’s been a little bit since we got to do this, and Wrigley Field, it’s going to be pretty exciting.”
Essentially, Kershaw dismissed the idea of limitations on his workload at this point in the season.
“I’m not going in with any restrictions,” he said. “There’s no excuses at this point. So we’re just going in trying to get a win.”
Based on previous patterns, Kershaw might then follow up with an NLCS Game 5 start on three days’ rest, though we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. On paper, for now, Kenta Maeda would return for a Game 5 and Kershaw would go in a Game 6.
Roberts said that if Kershaw hadn’t been able to start Game 2, the Dodgers might have had to make an additional roster change to cover the start. But Kershaw made the point moot.
“It’s not complicated. … If he feels good, then it’s a no-brainer,” Roberts said. “It’s just more of just getting assurance that he feels good physically, which he does, and so it’s one of those things, obviously, when you get a chance for Clayton to pitch Games 2 and potentially 6, that’s a good thing for us. And yeah, it’s full go.”
Roberts added that Yasmani Grandal would be back in the Dodger starting lineup to catch Kershaw in Game 2, but the Dodger manager liked Ruiz today against Cubs lefty Jon Lester. Ruiz will catch Kenta Maeda.
“For me, (Ruiz’s) at-bat quality has been top notch, even through September,” Roberts said. “And I wanted to get him not only at-bats off the bench but to get him a start to prepare for a game. And it’s nice when you’ve got Yasmani still off the bench and you got Chase and Toles and Ethier. But I think, for me, I don’t think Kenta has a problem with it, and Chooch has been on this stage. So I think for me. give Yasi a couple days, and then he’ll be back in there tomorrow.”