Dodgers on brink after another pitching plan goes awry

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers were asking the world of Julio Urias when he took the mound for the fourth time in 12 days.

Although Urias was the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, Los Angeles had used him in three roles in the past week alone. Urias and the Dodgers all claimed it was nothing he couldn’t handle, but the left-hander was out of rhythm and away from his normal between-starts preparation when he took on the Atlanta Braves in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

“I felt good physically,” Urias said after LA’s 9-2 loss Wednesday night. “I just have to give them credit for what they did today.”

By the time Urias left the Dodger Stadium bump with a five-run deficit, it seemed clear Los Angeles is asking for too much – or isn’t getting enough – from the top pitchers in its tumultuous rotation.

The Dodgers’ front office is disregarding most traditional norms in an October attempt to get the most out of its pitching staff. But with his team on the brink of elimination, it’s clear those decisions haven’t worked out the way LA boss Andrew Friedman hoped.

Both Urias and Max Scherzer struggled in the NLCS when asked to start on just two days’ rest after pitching in relief. Walker Buehler also didn’t match his usual standard when pitching on extra rest.

And now the Dodgers are down to their last chance to get those decisions right against the Braves, who have a 3-1 series lead against LA for the second straight October and three opportunities to dethrone the defending World Series champs. After matching the best regular season record in franchise history, the Dodgers will be facing elimination for the fourth time already in these playoffs in Game 5.

Manager Dave Roberts, the public face of the group strategy decisions made by Friedman’s front office, insisted Urias’ heavy, unusual usage wasn’t the reason he struggled.

“There’s a potential cost” of using a starter in relief, Roberts admitted. “I don’t think anyone knows. … For me, it’s talking to the player, the pitching guys and seeing the stuff. I just don’t see the stuff tonight was compromised.”

Urias still gave up three solo homers in two early innings – all on four-seam fastballs in the low 90s – before getting tagged for another run in the fifth. With his fastball velocity down slightly from its usual spot, he yielded eight hits and struck out only three.

“Honestly, I don’t think he was necessarily tired,” Roberts said. “I think the stuff was good. I think they had a very good game plan for him. I think they took advantage of some mistakes and hit them out of the ballpark.”

Whether it’s due to the Dodgers’ unusual strategies, the pitchers’ bad performances or the Braves’ excellence, one thing is clear: The three remaining elite starters in LA’s once-deep rotation haven’t pitched to their normal standards.

Three days after he closed out the NL Division Series in San Francisco, Scherzer couldn’t get out of the fifth inning of Game 2 in Atlanta in his shortest playoff start since 2011. Two days later, Buehler lasted only 3 2/3 innings and left trailing in Los Angeles’ come-from-behind victory in Game 3.

By the time Game 3 was over, the Dodgers had made 28 pitching changes in their past four games. With a planned bullpen game looming for Game 5, Los Angeles desperately needed a big start on short rest from Urias in Game 4.

Instead, the Braves hit him hard and put the Dodgers against the ropes for the second straight season.

The Dodgers’ rotation has been a patchwork group all year, belying their 106-win success. Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May and Trevor Bauer were key components of the rotation early in the season, yet Los Angeles somehow still headed to the postseason with the most quality starts in the NL.

Urias hadn’t allowed three homers in a game since his second major league appearance in 2016, but Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Freddie Freeman all connected.

Urias’ success in postseason relief is already a part of Dodgers lore: He got the save in LA’s championship-clinching victory last season with 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief against Tampa Bay in Game 6 of the World Series.

But the Dodgers stretched Urias even further in his past three appearances: He was a four-inning bulk reliever in Game 5 of the NL Division Series because the Dodgers elected to put two openers in front of him, and then he came on in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the NLCS and gave up Atlanta’s tying two-run rally on a day when he would normally be doing his side work.

The Dodgers’ debatable pitching strategies wouldn’t carry nearly as much weight if their high-priced lineup had been able to hit the Braves’ relievers while Atlanta threw a bullpen game Wednesday. Instead, LA couldn’t get a hit until the fifth inning and finished with just four hits in Game 4.

And the Dodgers are still doubling down: Tony Gonsolin came on in the eighth inning of Game 4, limiting the normal starter’s availability Thursday night when Los Angeles will face elimination with a bullpen game – although that might be a good thing, considering Gonsolin gave up four runs in the ninth.

“Obviously they’re playing with a lot of confidence, but we have to come out tomorrow and play a game,” Urias said. “We have another game tomorrow. We have a great team here, and we have a great opportunity to do something special.”

New bill to build Athletics stadium on Las Vegas Strip caps Nevada’s cost at $380 million

D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports
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CARSON CITY, Nev. — A bill introduced in the Nevada Legislature would give the Oakland Athletics up to $380 million for a potential 30,000 seat, $1.5 billion retractable roof stadium on the Las Vegas Strip.

The bulk of the public funding would come from $180 million in transferable tax credits from the state and $120 million in county bonds, which can vary based on interest rate returns. Clark County also would contribute $25 million in credit toward infrastructure costs.

The A’s have been looking for a home to replace Oakland Coliseum, where the team has played since arriving from Kansas City for the 1968 season. The team had sought to build a stadium in Fremont, San Jose and finally the Oakland waterfront, all ideas that never materialized.

The plan in the Nevada Legislature won’t directly raise taxes. It can move forward with a simply majority vote in the Senate and Assembly. Lawmakers have a little more than a week to consider the proposal before they adjourn June 5, though it could be voted on if a special session is called.

The Athletics have agreed to use land on the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip, where the Tropicana Las Vegas casino resort sits. Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao has said he is disappointed the team didn’t negotiate with Oakland as a “true partner.”

Las Vegas would be the fourth home for a franchise that started as the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901-54. It would become the smallest TV market in Major League Baseball and the smallest market to be home to three major professional sports franchises.

The team and Las Vegas are hoping to draw from the nearly 40 million tourists who visit the city annually to help fill the stadium. The 30,000-seat capacity would make it the smallest MLB stadium.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said a vote on the Oakland Athletics’ prospective move to Las Vegas could take place when owners meet June 13-15 in New York.

The plan faces an uncertain path in the Nevada Legislature. Democratic leaders said financing bills, including for the A’s, may not go through if Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoes the five budget bills, which he has threatened to do as many of his priorities have stalled or faded in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Under the bill, the Clark County Board of Commissioners would create a homelessness prevention and assistance fund along the stadium’s area in coordination with MLB and the Nevada Resort Association. There, they would manage funds for services, including emergency rental and utility assistance, job training, rehabilitation and counseling services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The lease agreement with the Las Vegas Stadium Authority would be up for renewal after 30 years.

Nevada’s legislative leadership is reviewing the proposal, Democratic state Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager said in a statement.

“No commitment will be made until we have both evaluated the official proposal and received input from interested parties, including impacted community members,” Yeager said.