Signs point to change in Dodgers' rotation
Torre to decide Saturday if McDonald will remain starter
LOS ANGELES -- With all signs pointing to a change, manager Joe Torre said he won't decide until Saturday whether struggling rookie James McDonald remains in the Dodgers' starting rotation.
Torre, however, acknowledged that veterans Jeff Weaver, newly added to the bullpen, and Eric Milton, who allowed three runs in six innings for Triple-A Albuquerque on Friday night, are replacement candidates.
"Weaver is an option," Torre said of the right-hander, who restored order with four scoreless innings after a wild McDonald couldn't get out of the second inning Thursday night.
Torre would prefer to keep Weaver in the bullpen for situations like Thursday night's. But if Torre decides that it's time for a change, it will probably be Weaver because, by throwing 96 pitches Friday night, Milton couldn't return in four days when McDonald is next scheduled to pitch.
Also, Milton's addition would give the Dodgers a rare four left-handers in the rotation -- Milton, Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw and Eric Stults -- at least as long as Hiroki Kuroda is on the disabled list.
Would Torre have a problem with those lopsided numbers?
"I hope not," he said. "It's not ideal. But it comes down to who is pitching best. If they're all right-handers or they're all left-handers, you just have to go with it. Left-handers like Milton, with a changeup, have success against right-handed hitters."
Saturday would be the day for McDonald's between-start bullpen session, which would be canceled if McDonald was to be moved into the bullpen, which is where Torre originally planned to have him this year. Instead, McDonald won the fifth-starter job by default when the group of candidates -- including Milton and Shawn Estes -- was unimpressive.
Since then, McDonald (8.16 ERA, 14 walks in 14 1/3 innings) has had fits of wildness, while Milton, Estes and Weaver continued to build arm strength and round into form at Triple-A. Management seems to favor Milton over Estes at this point.
"At some point we think he'll help us, and I think he feels that way, it's just a matter of when," Torre said of Milton. "We want him to be part of this thing."
In addition to McDonald, the Dodgers have received repeated short starts from Stults and Kershaw. The last time through the rotation, McDonald, Kershaw and Stults combined for nine innings. Each has five starts and Kershaw is the only one with a start of longer than 5 1/3 innings (seven innings, once). Of the 15 starts, six have been fewer than five innings.
Despite that, the Dodgers entered play Friday night with a 15-8 record, 3 1/2 games ahead in first place. But Torre doesn't believe the good times will continue if the pitching doesn't improve.
"I don't think so over the long haul," he said. "We need to manage the game somewhat. Early last year, we asked the starting pitchers to throw shutouts because we weren't scoring runs. Eventually, it's going to burn out. It's nice to score five, six, seven runs a game. Then all of a sudden you don't score enough and it's an issue. Over the long haul, you can't bank on that."
In other pitching news, the promotion of Weaver prompted a disappointed Tanyon Sturtze to request, and receive, his release. Torre said the Dodgers needed a long reliever and Sturtze has become a short reliever.
Also, left-hander Brian Mazone was activated by Albuquerque. Mazone's surprise bid for a bullpen job this spring was derailed when he developed an abscess on his buttock that sidelined him for a month.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.