MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Dodgers in good shape despite pitching woes

Dodgers in good shape despite pitching woes

PHILADELPHIA -- Dodgers manager Dave Roberts sat behind the desk in his office at Citizens Bank Park long before Thursday night's 5-4 loss to the Phillies and pored over some papers.

Roberts was already shuffling around off-days in Los Angeles' tentative 2017 schedule. Plus, there were some perspective blue lineup cards for this weekend's series in Cincinnati with names written in ink.

"I like to get ahead," the first-year skipper said.

In Roberts' mind's eye, he'd really like to envision the Dodgers' starting rotation for late September: Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Scott Kazmir, Kenta Maeda and either Bud Norris or Brandon McCarthy.

The Dodgers are well-situated right now. They are in first place in the National League West, but a lot of things have to happen before that rotation takes shape. Roberts doesn't even have a starter yet to face the Reds on Sunday.

Roberts has Kershaw, with a herniated disk in his lower back, getting back on the mound to throw a light bullpen session on Saturday at Great American Ball Park.

The good thing about Kershaw is that he's pain free.

"We wouldn't continue to move forward if he wasn't," Roberts said. "We feel good where he's at right now."

Hill, with a seemingly perpetual blister on his left middle finger, threw a simulated rehab start on Thursday night at the team's Camelback Ranch Spring Training complex in Phoenix.

These are small steps, and there's no way of knowing right now where any of it will lead. Kershaw has been out since his last start on June 26. Hill was obtained from the A's, arriving with the injury, and hasn't pitched since July 17 for Oakland.

Norris, returning from a stint on the disabled list with a mild back strain, is slated to start on Friday night.

Brett Anderson is getting another crack at it Saturday. Anderson missed more than five months because of back surgery and had to leave his first start after one inning this past Sunday with a sprained left wrist after diving to field a dribbler back to the box. He allowed five runs on five hits anyway.

McCarthy is rehabbing a sore right hip sustained in his comeback from Tommy John surgery, and there's no timetable for his return. Alex Wood had surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow, and he could be back next month in a bullpen role only.

Hyun-Jin Ryu is out for the season, Roberts added, with injuries to his left elbow and shoulder. That means the Korean left-hander will have missed the past two full seasons, placing his career in real jeopardy.

What's a manager to do?

"This is the hand we're dealt," Roberts said. "I think for myself, the coaches, the players, we've been able to adjust. We're in a day and age where we're all about routines and probables. For us, we're waiting and guys are ready when they're called upon. There are a lot of variables."

The fact that Los Angeles is in first place through all of this is no minor miracle, prescribed by what Tommy Lasorda used to call the goodwill and largess of the "big Dodger in the sky."

The Giants, of course, have been a big help, losing 21 of their 30 games since the All-Star break heading to Thursday night's action.

The Dodgers were as many as eight games out after the contests of June 26, and despite all of their starting pitching woes, they have played 26-16 ball since then, putting themselves in position to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive division title.

Of course, they haven't won the World Series nor even been there since 1988, so there are myriad mountains still to climb.

Plus, they have nine games left against the Giants, who have won the World Series three times lately in every even year since 2010.

The Giants, of course have their own miseries. Matt Cain, who has been on and off the disabled list since July 2014 with elbow and forearm problems, was placed back on it Thursday for the third time this season, this time because of a bad back.

San Francisco still has a healthy and formidable rotation in Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore and veteran Jake Peavy waiting in the wings.

But the Giants' usually reliable back end of the bullpen has been in tatters. They've blown 20 saves thus far this season, six by closer Santiago Casilla.

Even with all of this, both clubs came into action on Thursday with pitching stats that pace the Major Leagues. Los Angeles fourth overall with a 3.67 ERA and San Francisco was right behind at 3.73.

As far as the starters were concerned, the Giants were fifth at 3.82, the Dodgers seventh at 4.01.

For the Dodgers, of course, the remainder of the season and how deep they travel in the playoffs rests on the whip-like left arm of Kershaw. He's a three-time NL Cy Young Award winner, who was 11-2 with a 1.79 ERA, 145 strikeouts, nine walks and an amazing 0.727 WHIP before he went out.

Roberts said he had no way of knowing when Kershaw will return.

"After he gets off the mound [Saturday], I'll have better insight," Roberts said.

Even the likes of Kershaw will have to rebuild arm strength after two months of inaction. With the Minor League season ending on Sept. 1, Camelback Ranch may be the destination of choice for Kershaw to face hitters.

If Kershaw remains healthy, this is Roberts' prognosis:

"As we look at the calendar, our training staff and doctors and front office feels like he can make a couple, two, three starts before the end of the season."

That could make all the difference in the division race. And a manager can only dream.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.