ST. LOUIS -- Having prepared to start Clayton Kershaw in a possible Game 5 of the NL Division Series, the Dodgers may now use the young left-hander to open the NL Championship Series on Thursday.
Manager Joe Torre appeared to be setting up Kershaw, the Dodgers' starter in Game 2 of the NLDS, to take the mound in a potential Game 5 -- passing over Game 1 starter Randy Wolf -- if the Cardinals extended the series. They didn't come close, bowing out, 5-1, in Saturday's Game 3.
Heading out to the field for Game 3 batting practice on Saturday, Wolf said he was told he would be in the bullpen as a third left-handed reliever, apparently explaining why he hasn't thrown a between-starts bullpen session since his 3 2/3-inning start Wednesday night.
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Meanwhile, Kershaw threw his regular bullpen session early Saturday. Having started Game 2 on Thursday, Saturday would be his normal side-session day in a five-day cycle. Kershaw's regular turn would then come on Tuesday -- the date of the unnecessary Game 5. Now it could come Thursday at home in the NLCS opener. Kershaw had a 1.83 ERA at Dodger Stadium this season, almost two runs lower than his road ERA.
Kershaw, who pitched six scoreless innings in the Dodgers' NL West clincher last Saturday, said he didn't know of any plans, other than throwing on his normal throw day. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt smiled when asked if Kershaw's bullpen session signaled his selection for either assignment. Torre had announced starters for the NLDS only through Sunday's Game 4 (Chad Billingsley).
But it's logical to speculate that Torre would side with the 21-year-old Kershaw. For one thing, particularly in the postseason, Torre goes with the hot hand and he's often said there's no room for sentiment to influence decisions. And his comments following the starts of Wolf and Kershaw provided a clue as to his thinking for their future roles.
Here's what Torre said about Wolf immediately after his Game 1 start:
"Yeah, he may have been [overanxious]. This time of year, this happens. He's pitching at home and I thought he settled in after the first two innings and I was just a little uncomfortable in that fourth inning, especially when he hit [Matt] Holliday. But my intention was to because his pitch count, I know it said 80 or 81, but we walked a couple of guys intentionally.
"So we don't really count those against him. So we felt he was going to get through five. But when it got to that point, I just decided to take him out. I don't know about jumpy. I think he got through that in the first couple of innings. I didn't think his command was as good as we have seen it. Plus left-handers had good luck with him today, and he's been nails against left-handers this year."
By contrast, here's what Torre said about Kershaw immediately after his Game 2 start:
Wolf-Kershaw NLDS breakdown
Below is a comparison of Dodgers Game 1 starter Randy Wolf and Game 2 starter Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw could start Game 1 of the NLCS.
* -- Two intentional
** -- Intentional
"This is what you save all those innings for during the season. Again, he was very economical going into the seventh inning. He pitched great. I was very comfortable watching Kershaw pitch today. I thought he responded to the challenge very, very well. We just have to figure out a way to get our left-handers get left-handed hitters out. We just haven't been able to do that these last two days."
And here's what Torre said about Kershaw on the Friday off-day:
"To me, I thought Kershaw maybe didn't have his best stuff, but he battled [Adam] Wainwright tooth and nail."
Statistically, Wolf was charged with two earned runs on six hits in 3 2/3 innings (4.91 ERA), five walks (two intentional) and two strikeouts. Kershaw was charged with two earned runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings (2.70), one intentional walk and four strikeouts.
Torre also said Hiroki Kuroda continues to improve from a herniated disk in his neck. Kuroda threw 20 pitches off the mound Friday and is expected to have a regular bullpen session Sunday. If that goes well, Honeycutt said, Kuroda would throw a simulated game in Los Angeles on Tuesday. There is increasing optimism that Kuroda will be available for the NLCS.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.