As we trudge along towards opening day I’ve noticed that the regulars aren’t getting much playing time. It seems every time I look up at a cactus league game Cameron Perkins or Daniel Castro are hitting. On the mound it’s much of the same with a lot of the regular Dodger pitchers that are slated to make the opening day squad sitting around and not getting enough playing time.
Of course I understand that the Dodgers want to use a cautionary approach with certain young pitchers who have had histories of major surgeries. Namely I am talking about Walker Buehler and Julio Urias. Buehler pitched more innings than ever in 2018 and Urias is still recovering from major shoulder surgery. As I write this today, Urias is pitching against the Rockies in the Dodger’s exhibition match at Salt River Fields and he looks good.
It’s great to see Urias pitching but Buehler has yet to appear in a cactus league game. Urias has pitched only three innings the entire exhibition season and like I mentioned above Buehler hasn’t even faced a single batter in a real game situation. That’s a problem for me.
Here’s the thing guys, opening day is less than three weeks away. On March 28 the Dodgers open the regular season against the Dbacks at Dodger Stadium and you want your entire club to be game ready. I fear that won’t happen and two of the Dodger’s best young starters will not have enough arm strength built when the season starts.
It’s an annoying potential problem. Clayton Kershaw has a shoulder issue and probably won’t be ready to make his usual opening day nod. The rest of the potential rotation of Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, and Hyun-jin Ryu are good but not great pitchers. The Dodgers need Walker Buehler and Julio Urias to be ready for April baseball if they are going to get off to a good start.
Look I get it. Urias is young and coming off major shoulder surgery. Buehler coming off of Tommy John tossed 137.2 innings in 2018 plus all of the postseason innings that the Dodger’s World Series run put on his arm. The Dodgers relied heavily on Buehler as the defacto ace in 2018 when Kershaw’s fastball and performance declined due to age and injury. Buehler performed spectacularly and was one of the best pitchers in baseball.
They’ll need him again if they are going to make another run at the World Series in 2019. Baseball Reference projections show Buehler pitching 122 innings in 2019 while ZIPS has him at 141 frames. The Dodgers are going to need a little bit more from him than that. That doesn’t mean that Buehler has to pitch 200 innings (if you think that’s what I am referring too) and Urias doesn’t have to make 35 starts either. They just need to be game ready with built arm strength and be able to pitch every fifth day. Because if you can’t toss 150 innings and make 25-30 starts per year (if you’re a starting pitcher) than you’re not much use in the rotation and better off being moved to the bullpen.
Baseball has changed and continues to evolve, however some old traditional approaches to game management and pitcher usage still applies. There’s a reason why teams who have no starting pitching and use “openers” like the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays never make the World Series. The Dodgers may be a team with a reliever centric philosophy but even they still allow their starters to pitch 5 innings (most of the time) at least every outing. Starting pitching will never go the way of the dodo bird. Innings count folks. That will never change.
There’s a reason why Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were so successful under pitching coach Leo Mazzone. They had a super simplistic system. Every fifth day they let those guys pitch and they were among the game’s greatest starting pitchers, rarely ever getting hurt. I would love to see the Dodgers do the same with their young hurlers. It’s time to let Urias, Buehler and some of the other young pitchers pitch. It’s time to take the kid gloves off.