Clayton Kershaw has never started on three days’ rest. Now the Dodgers are asking him to do just that in Monday’s Game 4 against the Braves. Rather than trust Ricky Nolasco to close out the series, they’re going to bank on their ace who is about to win his second Cy Young Award.
In a vacuum, I’m down with that. I like the Dodgers’ chances a little better tonight with Kershaw going. But, then, I liked their chances just fine anyway.
One big complication here: Kershaw threw 126 pitches over seven innings in his Game 1 victory. That’s his second highest total ever as a pro. It wasn’t the most strenuous of 126-pitch outings — the Dodgers won 6-1 — but I’d feel better about things if he had thrown 100-110 pitches instead.
All things considered, this might be the most fatigued start of Kershaw’s life. He’s already thrown 243 innings this year, and now he’s on three days’ rest after an unusually lengthy outing. And with that fatigue has to come an increased risk of injury. Whether that increase is one percent, 10 percent or 100 percent, I won’t claim to know, but it’s there. The safer play would be to let Kershaw pitch on extra rest in a possible Game 5.
By making the switch mere hours before the game, the Dodgers are also showing just how little faith they have in Nolasco. And that’s dangerous with the hope of two potential seven-game series coming up. They’re going to need Nolasco if they intend to win the World Series. Now, if he ever does get the chance to start in the NLDS, it’ll come nearly three weeks after his last start on Sept. 25.
There are also question marks about Hyun-Jin Ryu’s health that could make Nolasco doubly important.
One plus for the Dodgers here is that moving up Kershaw doesn’t tax the rotation further. That Zack Greinke can start Game 5 on normal rest was likely a factor in the choice. It’s not like they need multiple guys to start on short rest.
Still, I don’t like it. With Atlanta starting Freddy Garcia, I think the Dodgers would have won tonight with Nolasco, leaving them much better set up for the NLCS. They just don’t gain enough in making the switch to justify the risk.