MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Dodgers' starting pitching depth being stretched thin

Dodgers' starting pitching depth being stretched thin

MILWAUKEE -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have won three straight National League West titles. A fourth would require some serious adjustments in their starting pitching situation.

The Dodgers have four starters on the disabled list. They are auditioning for replacements at the Major League level and the results have been a bit uneven.

Tuesday night, in the opener of a three-game series against the Brewers, 19-year-old Julio Urias produced his first victory as a Major Leaguer. Urias' immense potential, combined with his remarkable pitching maturity, gives Los Angeles reason for long-term optimism.

But Urias has not thrown more than 87 2/3 innings in a single season. The Dodgers had hoped to shut him down for a time and bring him back later in the season. But their current pitching shortage won't immediately allow for that course of action.

Wednesday night, Los Angeles' starter was Brock Stewart, who began this season in the Class A Advanced California League. He had a meteoric rise through three levels of the Minor Leagues, going 8-3 with a 1.47 ERA.

"He's the best option we have at this point in time," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before the game. "He gives us the best chance to win. That's it. He's the best of what we have. He's performed. Based on now, you have a guy who's built up as a starter and has a chance to go deeper in a game."

And Stewart certainly flashed talent, striking out the first two Brewers he faced with 95-mph fastballs. But in the second inning, a shift-beating grounder to the right side by Milwaukee first baseman Chris Carter seemed harmless enough, but started a cascade of runs. Center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a three-run homer and the Brewers scored five runs overall.

Stewart threw three shutout innings after that, but the damage was done. The Brewers won, 7-0, behind their own rookie, 31-year-old Junior Guerra. Stewart struck out seven in his five innings and demonstrated plenty of potential. But the Dodgers have to get from here to the All-Star break before they can focus on the future.

For the moment, Urias is in the rotation.

"I would say the odds of Julio being in the rotation through the All-Star break are very high," Roberts said.

And Stewart?

"We wanted to see how he would handle himself," Roberts said of Stewart getting another start. "It's definitely worthy of discussion. As I sit here right now, it's a high possibility.

"Outside of that [second inning], still seven [strikeouts]. It's a tough stage, but I thought he handled himself well. I thought he did a nice job. I thought he composed himself well. You look at a couple different pitches and it could have been a completely different outing."

Over the entire operation hangs the question of whether Clayton Kershaw's sore lower back will cost him starts. Kershaw left the club Wednesday to fly back to Los Angeles for further tests on the back.

Roberts said after Wednesday night's game that he had no further information on Kershaw's status. But he acknowledged that Kershaw had not thrown a bullpen session or played catch this week. That would make his scheduled start Friday a near improbable event. The appropriate question on Kershaw might be whether he will pitch before the All-Star break.

The Dodgers have two injured starters -- Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu -- on rehab assignments. Roberts said that a third injured pitcher, Alex Wood, could be back with the team by early August. Los Angeles has had to use nine starting pitchers so far this season, with four of them making their Major League debuts.

"It's a collective effort, and we knew that going into the season," Roberts said. "When you've got nine starters at this point in time, it's a lot. But the bullpen has been a mainstay, for the most part, and has given us valuable innings. The consistency on defense has really helped the pitching. But honestly, every team has to go through this. It's just a part the season. No one is going to feel sorry for the Los Angeles Dodgers."

That is the one sure thing in this picture. The Dodgers, with their resources, will find no sympathy among the other 29 Major League franchises. The question is, what do they do next?

Maybe Stewart has enough talent and poise to stick. But he has had a very brief pitching career and has never pitched more than 101 innings in a season. This season, he already has thrown 91 innings.

Roberts suggested that if an emergency starter were needed Friday it might be Carlos Frias, a swingman currently at Triple-A Oklahoma City. But Roberts cautioned that Frias was not fully stretched out, with his longest outing this year at 70 pitches.

It is strange to see the Dodgers, who have so often been pitching-rich, bumping into this sort of pitching shortage.

Seeking reinforcements on the trade market looks like a viable option, but that is rarely an automatic cure-all. McCarthy and Ryu returning to full health and effectiveness would be somewhere between very helpful and absolutely necessary.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.