With Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke anchoring the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rotation, it will be nearly impossible for the Dodgers to have a bad rotation, but the Dodgers had depth problems entering the spring with Brett Anderson penciled in as the number five starter and little behind him in case a starter should falter. The lack of depth gained some early exposure, with Hyun-Jin Ryu unable to start the year with the team as he continues to work his way back from shoulder problems. The Dodgers received another blow last night, with news that Brandon McCarthy would miss the rest of the season as he joins the Tommy John Surgery waiting list.
The Dodgers have gotten by in the early going without relying on a single fifth starter, instead giving one start each to Mike Bolsinger, David Huff, and Scott Baker. David Huff is no longer on the 40-man roster, although the Dodgers will have an opening if they choose to put Brandon McCarthy on the 60-day disabled list. Scott Baker is currently scheduled to make this Friday’s start against Arizona, making him the de facto fourth starter behind Kershaw, Greinke, and Anderson. The Dodgers have an off day on Thursday which means they can pitch their top three starters on normal rest Saturday through Monday before needing their fifth starter again on Tuesday.
Prior to McCarthy’s injury, the Dodgers pitching Depth Chart for the rest of the season looked like this.
Unless the replacement comes from outside the organization and the Dodgers make a big move for Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto, or they decide to call up top prospect Julio Urias, the Dodgers look to be losing about two wins from their rotation over the course of the rest of the season. Losing two wins would still put them in the top five of rotations over the rest of the season due to the strength at the top. There were question marks before McCarthy went down as Ryu’s status is not entirely known, Anderson has not pitched more than 100 innings since 2010, and a hierarchy among the backups is less clear than the Cardinals when Adam Wainwright down.
The Dodgers could get some innings from Brandon Beachy at some point. Joe Wieland and Zach Lee are available, but it is not clear that they are any better than replacement level at this point. Scott Baker is in the rotation, but ZiPS projects him as a below replacement level player at this point in his career. The most promising start this season by a potential fifth starter candidate has been the one of Mike Bolsinger.
The 26-year-old Bolsinger was purchased by the Dodgers from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason. He made nine starts with the Diamondbacks last season and had an unsightly 5.50 ERA, but his peripheral statistics were decent.
His projections — which do include some expected bullpen work, so are overstating what he’d do as a full-time starter — look to be below average but above replacement, making him potentially the Dodgers’ best internal option. His ZiPS projection — more heavily slanted towards SP innings — is not quite as optimistic, with a 4.26 ERA and a 4.08 FIP, but even that mark would be above replacement and likely a win better than Scott Baker. Bolsinger pitched well in his debut, lasting 5 2/3 innings, striking out five against two walks with no home runs and just one run given up.
Bolsinger does not have stuff that will blow hitters away. In his starts this season and last, he has been primarily a two-pitch pitcher, using only the cutter and curveball. Bolsinger’s velocity is not great as the cutter sits in the mid to high 80s. It is a difficult recipe to make it as a starter with just two pitches, but he might be a good stopgap on the Dodgers for the foreseeable future. Jeff Zimmerman took a look at one of this starts from last season and had this to say about his curve:
His 12-6 loopy curve was at 78-84 mph and he could throw it for strikes. He threw the curve a lot (33% on the season)
The curve worked at times against the Giants in his start on April 23rd. Here it is against Nori Aoki:
Here it is against Casey McGehee:
The curve was a big part of his repertoire last year and that has not changed in his first start this year. In the opening start he used it 45% of the time. He got four whiffs on the pitch, per Brooks Baseball, and that 11% swing and miss figure is in line with his numbers from 2014 and above average for the curve. It is not yet clear if he will be able to turn over lineups using his curve one-third to one-half of the time. He ran into trouble going through the Giants lineup the third time. He got Aoki out to start the sixth, but then walked Joe Panik and allowed two singles to Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt that scored a run and got Bolsinger pulled from the game.
While the cutter does not appear to be a big weapon, he does use it low in the zone to get ground balls (53% career GB rate). He only got one swing and miss on the pitch in his first start of the season, but in the sixth inning with two runners on base, he used the pitch to get a key strikeout of Buster Posey.
Bolsinger is not going to provide the production the Dodgers thought they were going to get from Brandon McCarthy, but he could provide above replacement level pitching until reinforcements arrive or perhaps even hold down the fifth spot all season. He was sent down by the Dodgers on April 24th so he cannot be recalled for 10 days from that date unless another player hits the disabled list, but that would put him in line to start on Tuesday, May 5th, the next time the Dodgers need their fifth starter. Given their current options, the Dodgers could do a lot worse.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.