The Washington Post

Clayton Kershaw on short rest? The Dodgers made the right decision

Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw follows through on a pitch to an Atlanta Braves batter in the seventh inning of game one of their NLDS series. (EPA/ERIK S. LESSER)

Once Juan Uribe launched a two-run, eighth-inning homer last night, the Dodgers’ victory last night sent their star-studded caravan careening into the National League Championship Series. But that’s not why the Dodgers’ choice to start Clayton Kershaw on three days’ rest was the right decision. No matter the outcome of the fourth game in an incredible day of baseball, it would have been the right decision.

Even with Uribe’s homer, Michael Wacha’s near no-no, the Grant Balfour-Victor Martinez tiff and Jose Lobaton’s walk-off to end a Rays-Sox epic, Kershaw pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in his career remained the most compelling storyline in a day packed with drama. Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly took heat for throwing Kershaw on short rest for the first time in his entire career. But he was correct to do so.

The full body of evidence showed it wouldn’t work. Since 1995, according to what Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal dug up, teams throwing a starter on three days of rest in the playoffs had gone 29-48. The most vociferous argument against the start centered on the injury risk to which pitching on short rest would expose Kershaw. With the Dodgers ahead in the series, critics shouted, why take the unnecessary risk? Pitch Ricky Nolasco, they said, then bring Kershaw on normal rest in Game 5 if necessary.

The Dodgers faced a specific set of circumstances that made their choice to start Kershaw, the surefire NL Cy Young winner, the right one.

First, the Dodgers ensured Kershaw would be guaranteed an extra two days of rest before the start of the NLCS if they were to advance. The decisions of any team should be made with winning the World Series in mind, no matter what round. Kershaw can now pitch twice in the first six games of the NLCS – rather than twice in the first seven games – on regular rest. Moving up Kershaw helped the Dodgers chance to win the NLCS during the NLDS.

Second, the Dodgers’ bullpen entered Game 4 in tatters after Hyun-Jin Ryu gave them all of three innings in Game 3. The Dodgers had a much better chance to beat Atlanta with Nolasco and a full bullpen behind him than with Nolasco and a weakened relief corps. If the Braves toppled Kershaw and then Nolasco faltered in Game 5, at least Mattingly would have had the choice of going to his bullpen early.

By going for the jugular, the Dodgers decreased the chance that the top of the Braves’ rotation would throw another pitch and that the series would move back to Atlanta. Kershaw on three days’ rest may be a diminished version of Kershaw, but no matter the result last night, you would still take him on short rest over Freddy Garcia. Based on their respective work down the stretch, you would not have taken Ricky Nolasco on regular rest over Garcia. It turned out Garcia was excellent, and Kershaw simply kept the Dodgers in the game over six innings as he pitched around an Adrian Gonzalez that led to two runs.

The sentiment about an injury risk seemed reactionary and not a consideration of Kershaw’s particular career. He has thrown 901 1/3 innings in the last four regular seasons. That workload will have an effect at some point – it would be a surprise if ever has another season his 2013, when he punched up a 1.84 ERA and announced himself as the best pitcher in the game, period. But it also showed his durability. For one night, moving up one day was not going to endanger Kershaw in any significant way.

In the end, the Dodgers did not win only because Mattingly made the bold decision to start Kershaw. Kershaw was excellent over six innings, not allowing any earned runs. But the Dodgers still trailed, 3-2, entering the eighth inning. At that point, the other manager, Fredi Gonzalez, made another crucial decision that benefited the Dodgers: He chose David Carpenter to pitch the eighth rather than turning to Craig Kimbrel for a six-out save.

Uribe, who in 2010 earned the nickname Senor Octubre for his work with the Giants, launched a two-run shot off Carpenter as Kimbrel stewed in the bullpen, standing still with a ball in his glove. In a four-game series loss, the Braves’ best pitcher did not throw a single pitch. Gonzalez waited to use Kimbrel for a traditional three-out save, and instead the bottom of the ninth never came. That cannot happen. Especially in an elimination game, Gonzalez should have made sure he used his best weapon. After a tremendous season by the Braves, he has all winter to think about the mistake.

So, no, the Dodgers didn’t win because Kershaw started. But it gave them the best chance to win last night and in the coming weeks, and it was the right move.

Other Series

Has anyone gotten Brian McCann’s reaction to the staring (and swearing) contest between Balfour and Martinez? The moment overshadowed Oakland moving to the verge of knocking off the built-for-October Tigers. In Game 4 today at 5 p.m., Dan Straily will face Doug Fister.

The Cardinals: Harder to kill than bed bugs. The organization that keeps churning out young arms forced a Game 5 at rowdy PNC Park on the strength of Wacha’s flirtation with history and two jet-fueled relievers in their early 20s. Gerritt Cole and Adam Wainwright will face off Wednesday in the finale to a classic series. Does the series have anything to do with Stephen Strasburg’s shutdown? Sure, why not?

A catcher named Jose Lobaton entered the game in a double-switch and launched a baseball into an aquarium to beat Boston and stay alive in the playoffs. Now that may have been the most Rays moment since Tampa started its incredible run of success in 2008. It was also tough to stomach for the Red Sox. In Game 4 today at 8:30 p.m., Jake Peavy will face Jeremy Hellickson.

Yesterday’s results:

Walk-off home run lifts Rays over Red Sox | Box

Cardinals rookie takes no-hit bid into eighth to force Game 5 | Box

Dodgers rally to eliminate the Braves | Box

A’s grab a 2-1 series lead over Tigers | Box

Today’s games:

5 p.m. ALDS Game 4: Oakland at Detroit » TBS, WTEM (980 AM)

8:30 p.m. ALDS Game 4: Boston at Tampa Bay » TBS, WTEM (980 AM)

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.



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