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Competing ideas on rotation use

Competing ideas on rotation use

LOS ANGELES -- Two completely different managerial strategies for handling a postseason rotation will be on display for Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Monday.

Two different levels of rotation depth might be in evidence, too, but the jury is still out on that one.

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Manager Joe Torre of the Los Angeles Dodgers has chosen to go with a three-man rotation, meaning that Game 1 starter Derek Lowe will be brought back on three days' rest. Lowe has a substantial postseason pedigree, including a 3-0 record in the 2004 postseason when he helped the Boston Red Sox win a World Series championship.

Torre reasoned that with an extra day off built into the NLCS schedule -- between Games 4 and 5 -- this would allow him to pitch his other two starters, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda, on regular rest. If the series went the distance, it would also mean that Lowe could pitch on regular rest in Game 7.

Torre's primary alternative to use Lowe for the Game 4 start was, he said, 20-year-old rookie lefty Clayton Kershaw. What influenced his decision here, Torre said, was the left-handed strength of Philadelphia's lineup. With Kershaw available for bullpen duty, that leaves three lefties for Torre to utilize: Kershaw, Joe Beimel and Hong-Chih Kuo. But Kuo is coming back from an injury, and he's not yet available to pitch in back-to-back games. That was also a factor in Torre opting to have three southpaws in his bullpen.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has opted to go with a more conventional approach; four starters in this NLCS, the fourth of which will be Joe Blanton for Monday's Game 4. Blanton made this decision more plausible with his performance against Milwaukee in the clincher of the NL Division Series. Blanton went six innings, allowing only one run on five hits, walking none and striking out seven.

What this comes down to is, in one form or another, the confidence each manager has in his Game 4 starter. In Lowe's case, he has a track record, and, as a sinkerballer, theoretically his effectiveness is less likely to be affected by short rest. Torre said that he probably would have gone to Lowe on short rest in Game 4 of the NLDS, as well, but the Dodgers' sweep of the Cubs made that decision happily unnecessary.

"If he is maybe a little tired, a sinkerball pitcher is probably the one guy that's not going to feel the effects of it," Torre said. "But I think he's got the mind-set and the experience that makes him raise his hand any time you think about doing something like this. And it certainly makes my job easier as opposed to trying to talk somebody into pitching on short rest."

In this case, Torre said, Lowe approached pitching coach Rick Honeycutt about the possibility of pitching on short rest before Torre even raised the subject.

With the Phillies' decision, Blanton's work in the NLDS was justifiably enough for Manuel to go with him.

"Over in Milwaukee, I felt it was definitely his best game," Manuel said, "because he was very aggressive and he threw strikes and he stayed after the hitter and he definitely followed his game plan and he was very good.

"And since he's been here in Philadelphia, I can definitely say that he's gutty and he's kind of a bulldog on the mound. And I like that part about him."

With the Dodgers' 7-2 victory in Game 3 on Sunday, Lowe's performance in Game 4 will not represent a do-or-die situation. But the choices the managers have made for Game 4 will have ramifications that will probably last for the entire NLCS.

If Blanton pitches as well as he did against the Brewers, Manuel's faith in him will be justified and the rest of the rotation will also benefit. At this point in the year, an additional day of rest for Cole Hamels, the scheduled Game 5 starter, should be a particular plus. He's an ace, and he has won the opener of two straight postseason series. But at age 24, he has never previously had anything like the innings workload he has had this season. One more day of rest for him should be a positive for the Phillies.

The long-term view, however, might look better for the Dodgers. If this NLCS goes the distance, Lowe would be available -- and on his regular four days of rest for Game 7. On the other hand, in the current Phillies' rotation, that would be the turn of Jamie Moyer, who gave up six runs in 1 1/3 innings in Game 3.

"I don't know about that, we just have to wait," Manuel said, when asked about a Game 7 starter.

That's the right answer now. There may not be a Game 7. But Lowe, despite his loss in Game 1 of this series, has been one of baseball's best pitchers over the past two months. Moyer, for all of his success, for all of his 246 career victories, is now 0-2 in this postseason.

The fans will now get to see which pitcher prevails in Game 4 and which rotation philosophy prevails in the NLCS.

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

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{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }