With manager Dave Roberts’ announcement that Walker Buehler nor Clayton Kershaw will get the start on Opening Day, the Los Angeles Dodgers are now faced with the task of finding a new Opening Day starter for the first time since 2010.
Kershaw, who had made eight consecutive Opening Day starts for the Dodgers, has yet to appear in a Cactus League game and is on the slow track of his throwing program. Kershaw is scheduled to throw live batting practice on Wednesday, but Roberts has yet to put a timetable on when the left-hander could see in game action before the season.
Buehler is set to make his 2019 debut Wednesday night against the Cleveland Indians. His spring limitations have less to do with a nagging injury like Kershaw’s, yet was a result of pitching a career-high of 176 innings last season.
Roberts fully expects Buehler to start the year in the big league rotation, and the fact that he has been limited this spring is a precaution to ease his workload before a full season in the Majors.
Alas, Roberts ruling out the Dodgers’ top two starters makes sense. Neither has had a full spring to prepare for the season, and the Dodgers have an array of replacements for Roberts to choose from.
Two of the more prominent options are potentially entering their final season with the Dodgers, Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Both Hill and Ryu have started in four Spring Training games thus far. Hill has allowed four earned runnings in 11 innings pitched (3.27 ERA), while Ryu has held hitters to a .231 batting average in 10 innings pitched with a 1.80 ERA.
Roberts could also elect to go with a right-hander in Ross Stripling or Kenta Maeda, who have also started four Cactus League games. Stripling’s place and time in the rotation largely hinges on the health of Buehler and Kershaw, but he’s pitched well enough this spring that he will be a factor throughout the season.
The last option that Roberts has to start Opening Day is the biggest wild card for the Dodgers rotation this season, Julio Urias. He is just 22 years old and has looked dynamic this spring. Given his innings restrictions, Urias’ spot in the Dodgers rotation is up in the air but he will undoubtedly make an impact with the big league club in 2019.
Roberts spoke about utilizing Urias this season as a swingman/middle relief role, and if the Dodgers are planning on limiting his workload to around 100 innings this season, it’s unlikely that Urias makes more than 15 starts.
Stripling, Maeda and Urias are all long shots to get the start on Opening Day, simply because their roles are unsettled. Stripling has proven to be a very effective middle relief man the past two years, and Maeda and Urias thrived down the stretch last year out of the bullpen.
The most logical decision would be for Roberts to go with one of the veteran left-handers in Ryu or Hill. Being that this could be their final season with the organization, Roberts should give them the honor of opening the season in front of the dynamic Opening Day crowd.
If pressed to make a decision, the argument would tilt in favor of Ryu over Hill. Simply because Ryu has proven to be more consistent and is the Dodgers’ second-longest tenured starting pitcher behind Kershaw.
But at the end of the day, the first game of the season is no different from making any other start throughout the year. It would have been nice to see Kershaw extend his Opening Day streak to nine, but what matters more than who gets the ball in a season-opener is being healthy throughout a full season.