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Dodgers: Which Starting Pitcher Shifts to the Bullpen in the Playoffs?



For the first time in what feels like forever, the Dodgers have all 5 guys back in their starting rotation. And credit where credit is due, Dave Roberts and Mark Prior found a way to make it happen for weeks with only 3 guys in the rotation. 

But now back at full strength, the Dodgers will need to start thinking ahead. The postseason rotation will be moved to 4 arms and someone will be the odd man out. The good news? There really is not a bad call on the direction they go. 

The Dodgers will without a doubt have Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer starting their first 2 playoff games. But beyond that, there are arguments that can be made for the final 2 spots…sort of. Clayton Kershaw is almost sure to be included in the rotation, but there are factors to consider. 

Tony Gonsolin

Tony is coming off of a game that saw him toss 5 shutout innings against the Diamondbacks. Finally healthy in 2021, it was arguably his best outing of the season. But Tony won’t be built up quite where the Dodgers would like him to be, and his bullpen experience will play up. 

In his career, Tony owns a 3.60 ERA out of the bullpen and can provide electric stuff when they need it the most. 

Clayton Kershaw

Hear me out here, because Kershaw is the most obvious choice for the third spot. But maybe the Dodgers decide that Kersh didn’t get enough time to build up his pitch count or get his stuff going. They could pivot and use him as a long arm out of the bullpen, or even potentially a leverage southpaw. 

It’s very unlikely, but stranger things have happened. Bet on him being the third guy. 

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Julio Urías

Julio is by far the most intriguing case for the Dodgers. Given his relief success in the postseason during the 2020 run, he certainly represents a real option. Julio has also pitched by far the most innings of his career in 2021 at 168. 

On the other hand, he’s been lights out as a starter and is closing in on winning 20 games for the Dodgers. He would also be a good option as a left-handed reliever given his ability to get out both left-handed and right-handed hitters. 

Final Answer: The Dodgers have a tendency to do the exact opposite of what I think they will do seemingly every postseason. But the easy answer is moving Tony Gonsolin back to the bullpen in October. 

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Written by Brook Smith

Brook is the Senior Editor of Dodgers Nation, with several years of experience in sports journalism. He is an avid Dodgers and Lakers fan, and can be spotted fairly often at Dodger Stadium and Staples Center.

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  1. Gonsolin. Why? Kershaw’s experience not to mention his 3 Cy Young awards. No brainer. Gonsolin adds value no matter where he pitches so it’s a win win. Hey Muncy, hope that knee is feeling better! Not enough said about you and what you have done for the team. You are the anchor in this lineup, keep up the great work!

  2. If Dodgers win the division: In NLDS start Scherzer and Buhler games 1 and 2, julio or Kersh (whoever looks better to end the season) in game 3 (games 4 and 5 if necessary you’re probably starting scherzer and buhler again), with whoever didn’t pitch game 3 between Julio and Kersh giving bulk innings out of the bullpen. If they have to play the wild card I would start either Scherzer or Buhler for the WC game and bring in Urias for an inning or two (if needed) then transition to the back end of the bullpen with Trienan and Kenly. NLDS game 1 would be whoever between Scherzer and Buhler didn’t pitch WC, game 2 Kersh, Game 3 Scherzer, game 4 Julio, and game 5 whoever the game 1 starter was with gonsolin and price being the long men and treinan, kelly and jansen providing late inning relief. I really like Julio in a hybrid role come playoff time, but he looks so good as a starter this year it will be hard to not allow him to start in every series.

  3. The real question I guess is whether you’d want to see Kershaw or Urias in the 3rd spot, following starters Buehler and Scherzer. Kershaw was stellar in the WS last year and against Milwaukie in his other big start, but pretty meh the other post-season starts. So give him a start here or there and same with Urias. Julio really earned the 3rd spot with his impressive year but the Dodgers can be fluid and that shows how stacked they are 1-4 slots.

  4. I will know better after seeing Kersh pitch again. Looked pretty hittable against the lowly DBags. Like to see how he fares against better competition. Just back after two months on the shelf, his velocity is down and he looks tired. Maybe Kershaws fearsome competitiveness and HOF pedigree flips a switch. Assuming we have to play a WC game and win it in LA against whoever, my vote is Scherzer to the bump. If we win, it’s Buehler in SF against the Gyros, then Urias game 2, Kershaw game 3 in LA, Scherzer gets game 4 if needed and Buehler gets 5 in SF if needed.

    • Kershaw looks like the lack of excersize has made him gain some pounds. Gonsolin for sure in the pen and Kershaw for a 4th starter….I wouldn’t even put Price on the roster for the playoff’s.The bench is the weakest part of the team so if it comes to keeping Beaty and keeping Price as far away as possible.

  5. It does not matter if you had Sandy Kofax or Don Dyrsdale or the pitchers you got. Your not going to be the Giants period!!! They got better players at every position and hit better than any team i have seen in 60yrs. Plus they have the best bench in baseball to.Not to mention There is no doubt Gabe is a better manger than Roberts. So you might as well admit it. We cannot beat them now on there worst day. It is just the facts!!!

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