Washington Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker told reporters this afternoon that his choice for today’s starter came down to either Joe Ross or Reynaldo Lopez for the potentially decisive Game 4 of the NLDS with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Baker and his coaching staff ultimately went with Ross, the 23-year-old right-hander who returned from two-plus months on the DL for right shoulder inflammation to make three starts in September in which he put up a 2.79 ERA in 9 2⁄3 innings.
“We decided on Joe last night,” Baker said. “You know, we wrestled between Lopez and him, and you know, we know Joe will go shorter than Lopez, but we still have Lopez to back up.”
Asked what he expected to get out of Ross, the 67-year-old skipper said he didn’t have any expectations.
“I don't know,” Baker said. “Just like I always tell you, I'm just looking for a performance, just give us all of what you've got, and then we'll take it from there.”
Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts’ choice was between 20-year-old rookie Julio Urias or 28-year-old ace Clayton Kershaw, who would be throwing on short rest after starting Game 1 of the NLDS last Friday in the nation’s capital.
Kershaw too returned from the DL in September after dealing with a “mild herniated disc” in his lower back, posting a 0.96 ERA in 28 IP at the end of the regular season.
Roberts said Kershaw’s health was not a factor in the decision. He did, however, think about the amount of work his bullpen has put in over the first three games of the NLDS.
“Looking at potential for Julio and obviously there's some pitch-count mindfulness with Julio,” he explained.
“And with Clayton, we had complete certainly from the training staff, the doctors that health wasn't a factor.
“Obviously it's a game we need to win; where, one, Clayton gives us the best chance to win, and number two, he gives us the best chance to go deeper into a game.”
Kershaw gave up three runs in five innings in Game 1, which the Dodgers won. Baker talked today about what he saw from the southpaw in that outing.
“He wasn't as sharp as I had seen him, but he's still Clayton Kershaw,” Baker said.
“He kept them in the game, whether he was sharp or not.
“And you know, I mean, he's one of the best around, if not the best. When I was walking in from right field up there, I was looking, I was looking up in amazement, at 2011, I think, and 2013 and 2014. I mean, how many Cy Youngs has he won, three or four? How can you not go with him, you know.”
Roberts said he was prepared for the Nationals to go with Ross as well.
“We were thinking it was going to be Joe,” Roberts explained. “He's made more Major League starts, and we figured that they would go that route. With Joe, he's really been tough on right-hand hitters. But I like our right-handers in there.”
Ross has held right-handers to a .203/.244/.305 line so far in his career, but left-handed hitters have a .302/.372/.446 against the second-year starter.
“We've got a slew of left-handers,” Roberts said, “and so I think for us, he's got a good fastball. He throws a slider and he's got a change. But again, it's as simple as being aggressive in the strike zone. And I think that, as you've seen in this series, when we're in the strike zone, there's quality contact. And when we're not, there's a lot of swing and miss.
“I think that applies. It's simple, but it applies to Joe and it applies to all of the other guys we have in the pen.”
The Nationals’ decision gives them the option of going back to Max Scherzer should they need to in Game 5 on Thursday.
The Dodgers’ options are less clear, as Roberts explained.
“I think today, it's one of those things we just can't make that determination, because with today, it's an all-hands-on-deck,” Roberts said. “And obviously the guys we have in the pen have been used a lot. So I think that Julio is fresh.
So he's going to be in the pen today. So depending on how this game plays out, we'll make that decision. And you know, obviously Rich [Hill] is an option, too.”
“So I think as far as today, we're trying to win today, and I think we'll have time to make that decision.”
“It's still up in the air,” Roberts said. “I think I'm going to manage this game, again, all hands on deck, and Julio is a big part of today as far as his rest and how we feel against the Nationals, their offense.
“After today, we'll assess. And I think that regardless of if Julio isn't used and we have Julio or Rich, those are two good options for us.”
Will there be a Game 5? Will Joe Ross and the Nationals win back-to-back games in LA?
The Dodgers had the second-best home record in the NL this season. They need to win one more this afternoon to earn a trip back to D.C. for a potential Game 5.