LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly mostly affirmed Monday night that Ricky Nolasco will start Tuesday's Game 4 (5 p.m. PT, TBS) of the National League Championship Series for Los Angeles.
But it might be wise to continue to refer to Nolasco as a "probable" starter.
Mattingly stopped just short of issuing an ironclad guarantee that Nolasco will start.
"As of right now," Mattingly said after Los Angeles bested St. Louis, 3-0, in Game 3 of the NLCS, "Ricky Nolasco will be pitching tomorrow."
Before Game 3, Mattingly sounded prepared to bypass Nolasco in favor of Zack Greinke, who has superior credentials, if the Dodgers absorbed a loss that would push them to the brink of elimination. The obvious risk was that Greinke, if summoned for Game 4, would be working on three days' rest, one fewer than usual.
"I would say, yes, today's results may have something to do [with it]," Mattingly admitted.
2013: 6 GS (7 G), 4-2, 2.48 ERA Career: 8 GS (9 G), 4-3, 3.80 ERA
2013: 1 GS, 1-0, O.OO ERA Career: 3 GS, 2-0, 2.50 ERA
Against this opponent
2013: 2 GS, 2-0, 0.75 ERA Career: 10 GS (11 G), 3-4, 3.84 ERA
2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA Career: 3 GS, 2-0, 2.50 ERA
Loves to face: Yadier Molina, 3-for-11 Hates to face: Matt Holliday, 12-for-26, 2 HR
Loves to face: Michael Young, 0-for-9, 5 K Hates to face: Carl Crawford, 2-for-4
Why he'll win: Had success against Cardinals in regular season
Why he'll win: Has never lost to Dodgers
Pitcher beware: Has never pitched in the postseason
Pitcher beware: Allowed 5 earned runs in lone start this October
Bottom line: Forget about rough end to regular season
Bottom line: Limit impact from Dodgers' stars
This has become a familiar situation for Nolasco, 30. The Dodgers replaced him with Clayton Kershaw last Monday in Game 4 of the NL Division Series against Atlanta. Kershaw allowed two runs in six innings and received no decision as Los Angeles clinched the series with a 4-3 triumph.
"Until somebody says otherwise, I'm focused on going out there and pitching tomorrow," Nolasco said. Referring to his conditional starting status, he added, "Those things are out of my control. I'm only concentrating on the things I can control."
If the uncertainty annoyed Nolasco, he hid it well.
"I think anybody would want to be able to pitch in a postseason game," he said. "... My time will come. Whether it will or it won't, everything is meant to be and happens for a reason."
Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis expressed unqualified confidence in Nolasco.
"I expect the same competitive guy to step up and keep [the Cardinals] off balance and make some pitches."
Cardinals third baseman David Freese, whose playing status is day to day with a right leg injury, voiced respect for Nolasco.
"He's good. He uses his offspeed [pitches] a lot," Freese said. "We've just got to hit mistakes. This is the time of year where you've got to pound mistakes. We obviously haven't done that this series, but hopefully we can get it going tomorrow."
A potential free agent, Nolasco earned $11.5 million in the final year of a three-year, $26.5 million deal that he received from the Marlins, who traded him to Los Angeles for three Minor Leaguers in July. His contract status, combined with the Dodgers' must-win imperative, prompted a reporter to ask him whether he considered this the most important start of his career.
"I guess you could say that from [the team aspect]," Nolasco said. "I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help this team win. As far as being a free agent, whether I pitch good or bad, it doesn't dictate what kind of pitcher I am throughout the whole season. That's what free agency is about."
Nolasco hasn't started since Sept. 25 and hasn't pitched competitively since Sept. 29, when he received a one-inning tuneup against Colorado. He has busied himself by maintaining his usual between-starts routine and throwing approximately 80 pitches in a simulated game last Wednesday.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.