Options abound for Dodgers' rotation
With Kuroda nearing return, six pitchers vie for four spots
LOS ANGELES -- Hiroki Kuroda might return to the Dodgers starting rotation for the National League Championship Series after all.
The herniated disk in Kuroda's neck apparently healed, the Dodgers called an audible after watching him work out Monday, canceling a scheduled bullpen session and moving up a simulated game to Tuesday, which will take place at the club's Camelback Ranch complex in Arizona.
Pitching Tuesday would put Kuroda on schedule to start five days later in Game 3 on the road, and also line him up as the starter for Game 7, if there is one. An Arizona simulated game is the same prep the club used before naming Chad Billingsley the fourth starter for the NL Division Series, although he was never needed in the three-game sweep of the Cardinals.
As of Monday, manager Joe Torre had not announced any of his starters for the series against Philadelphia. Game 1 will be at 5:07 p.m. PT on Thursday.
Left-handers Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw started the first two games against the Cardinals and figure to be in the rotation, although which one goes first isn't clear. Vicente Padilla, whose stock is soaring after his clinching win, also is expected to start.
On Sunday, Torre said his only hesitation in regards to Kuroda was that he had not pitched in game conditions for two weeks. If Kuroda passes the simulated test, Torre has that same problem he appeared to have a few weeks ago -- six starting pitchers for four slots.
But the pitching of Padilla has clearly provided Torre with comfort that the Dodgers can win in the postseason without Kuroda, something almost unimaginable a few months ago when Kuroda was hit on the head with a line drive and the Dodgers picked Padilla off the scrap heap hoping he still had something left to fill in.
As Padilla showed in Saturday night's clincher, he's got a lot left. He's unbeaten as a Dodger and was almost unhittable against a Cardinals lineup that was flat and listless after giving away Game 2 on Thursday night.
Torre might have tipped his hand as the Cardinals series unfolded by having Game 1 starter Randy Wolf in the bullpen Saturday night during Game 3. Wolf did not take his normal between-starts bullpen session, but 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw did, an indication that Torre was prepared to skip Wolf and have Kershaw pitch a Game 5.
That, of course, was not necessary, as the Dodgers completed their second consecutive Division Series sweep.
Nor is that any assurance that Kershaw would get the Game 1 start over Wolf, although it's fuel for speculation. However, if the Dodgers want to ensure that Kershaw pitches two games at home (where his ERA was two runs lower than on the road), a more likely scenario would be for Kershaw to start Games 2 and 6.
HOW THEY MATCH UP
|Chad Billingsley||0-0, 1.29 ERA|
|Jon Garland||0-2, 6.35 ERA|
|Hiroki Kuroda||1 start, 6 scoreless innings|
|Clayton Kershaw||0-2, 5.23 ERA|
|Vicente Padilla||Did not face|
|Randy Wolf||1-1, 5.11 ERA|
Then there's the status of Chad Billingsley and Jon Garland. Billingsley, who struggled in September, was to start Game 4 against the Cardinals, but wasn't needed. A year ago, however, he was pushed around by the Phillies twice in the NLCS. He pitched well against the Phillies this year, but last year's playoff debacle makes his role this year uncertain should the Dodgers face Philadelphia.
Garland, who won some key games in the stretch run after he was acquired from Arizona for Tony Abreu, was sent to the bullpen for the Division Series and never pitched.
If Kuroda is added to the rotation for the LCS, it likely means either Billingsley or Garland wouldn't even make the roster, because there would be no need for two starters-turned-long relievers in addition to Jeff Weaver, who was the winning pitcher in Game 1 in relief after Wolf was removed in the fourth inning.
Torre, who played and managed in St. Louis, said he was "proud of the toughness" his club showed through the three-game series, and was surprised at the subdued nature of Cardinals fans before and during Game 3.
"It was quiet the whole game," he said. "And I looked up in the eighth inning and there was nobody in the stands."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.