DENVER — It has been obvious for a while. But Dodgers manager Dave Roberts finally acknowledged it.
As the Dodgers’ starting rotation is lined up for the final 10 games of the season, Max Scherzer would be the one to take the ball in a one-game situation whether it’s a Game 163 to decide the division title (on Monday, Oct. 4) or a one-game wild-card playoff (on Wednesday, Oct. 6).
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Roberts said of handing the ball to Scherzer in either situation. “I think he’s the best pitcher in baseball.”
Walker Buehler is lined up to start the final game of the regular season. Buehler (who started Game 163 for the Dodgers against the Colorado Rockies in 2018) could still be pushed back to start a Game 163 against the San Francisco Giants, thus saving Scherzer for a wild-card game if the Dodgers do not win the division.
But Buehler’s performance has declined in September. He carried a 2.05 ERA through his first 27 starts and was the frontrunner for the National League Cy Young Award at the end of August. In four starts this month, however, Buehler has a 7.32 ERA, failing to complete four innings in two of those starts including Wednesday night at Coors Field when he was knocked out of the game during a five-run fourth inning.
Buehler described it as “a ‘Me’ problem” and not a product of late-season fatigue, indicating that he has been trying to address it with adjustments in his pitch mix.
At the same time, Julio Urias has shown decreased fastball velocity in his past two starts. Both Urias (174-1/3) and Buehler (195-2/3) have pitched more this season than any other in their careers, the Dodgers having been forced to lean heavily on them with their rotation depleted by injury (Dustin May, Clayton Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin) and unavailability (Trevor Bauer).
But Roberts said their recent performances have not given him reason to be concerned about Buehler and Urias heading into the postseason.
“I don’t have concern,” Roberts said. “I think with Walker it hasn’t been stuff. It’s been execution and I think there could be some pitch selection, in my opinion. He’s going to be better. He’s got to perform. He knows that.
“With Julio, there’s been a downtick in velocity but I still think he’s throwing the baseball well. I’m not going to really concern myself too much with a mile an hour on average with the fastball over 100 pitches in a game.
“We expect them to pitch well. This is where we’re at. We have a long way to go. I expect performance and I know they do too. … If you look at their last few starts, especially with Julio, we’ve done a good job of shortening him up and saving some bullets. He feels strong. With Walker, fortunately for us, he’s been healthy and has had a tremendous season. I don’t think he’s even had a little blow. He’s been our horse all year and we’re going to continue to lean on him.”
Chris Taylor was sidelined for the third consecutive day Thursday after also missing six games last week with a neck injury. But he received an injection to treat the issue and is “feeling better,” according to Roberts, and increasing his activity level in workouts.
“The pain medication or shot, whatever it is he got, seems to be working,” Roberts said. “So the mobility is getting better. … I’ll probably stay away from him today then we’ll see about tomorrow.”
Taylor described the issue as feeling like a pinched nerve on the right side of his neck. He played two games during the weekend in Cincinnati but the problem flared up again.
Dodgers (RHP Tony Gonsolin, 3-1, 2.93 ERA) at Diamondbacks (RHP Humberto Castellanos, 2-1, 4.11 ERA), Friday, 6:40 p.m., SportsNet LA, 570 AM