LA sets rotation: Knebel, Max, Buehler, Urías

October 17th, 2021

ATLANTA -- For the second consecutive postseason game, the Dodgers started right-hander , this time in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Braves on Saturday.

Knebel served as the opener in the Dodgers’ Game 5 NL Division Series win over the Giants on Thursday, tossing a scoreless first inning. He filled the same role on Saturday, allowing a run on a wild pitch after Eddie Rosario led off with a single, stole second base and moved to third on an Ozzie Albies groundout. Knebel struck out two in the frame. Phil Bickford took over to start the second inning with the score tied at 1.

Bickford turned in 1 1/3 scoreless innings and was followed by Justin Bruihl (one scoreless inning), Tony Gonsolin (one run allowed in 1 2/3 innings), Alex Vesia (one scoreless inning), Joe Kelly (one scoreless inning), Kenley Jansen (one scoreless inning) and Blake Treinen, who gave up a one-out walk-off single to Austin Riley as the Braves won 3-2 and took a 1-0 NLCS lead.

Since the Dodgers had their bullpen handle Game 1, they'll start in Game 2 on Sunday, manager Dave Roberts said. Scherzer threw 13 pitches against the Giants in Game 5 to earn his first career save and clinch the series.

A day later, Scherzer said he felt some fatigue and wasn’t sure how he’d bounce back for a potential Saturday start. It was at that point that the Dodgers decided to push him back to Sunday’s Game 2. Scherzer pointed to the 2019 NLDS when he was pitching for the Nationals as evidence that he would be able to handle that kind of turnaround. (Facing the Dodgers, Scherzer pitched in relief in Game 2 of that series, then started Game 4.)

“I have zero experience of trying to pitch on one day of rest, relieving and coming back,” Scherzer said. “I do have experience of pitching on two days, in the 2019 run. … I knew that if I was going to pitch today, I was going to be limited in some form or capacity. It was going to be a pitch count somewhere between, call it, 60-90. I have no clue.

“So when we talked, that’s what made most sense. Just go pitch Game 2, and then you're on a full slate.”

Walker Buehler will start Game 3 on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium on an extra two days of rest. Left-hander Julio Urías will start Game 4 on Wednesday, also in L.A. The Dodgers were eager to give Buehler extra rest after he threw 71 pitches in NLDS Game 4 on Tuesday against the Giants on three days’ rest -- his first career appearance on short rest.

The Braves countered with their ace, Max Fried, in Game 1. Atlanta will start right-hander Ian Anderson in Game 2 and righty Charlie Morton in Game 3.

Another benefit of pushing Scherzer to Game 2 is that he might also be slated to start Game 6 (if necessary) on Oct. 23. That would give him an additional day of rest, following an off-day. It might be needed, after his heavy workload of late.

It might also, however, prompt another Dodgers bullpen day if the series reaches a Game 5. That’s not a strategy Roberts would have envisioned himself embracing a few years ago, but he’s come around to it.

“I hated it, it wasn't baseball,” Roberts said. “I like to see the starters, and starters go deep. But when you sit in this chair, you're trying to win games. That's the bottom line. So it doesn't matter how appealing it is. … I hated it because it was different, but I've learned to kind of soften on it. Different is not always bad.”

Then again, if Clayton Kershaw weren’t out for the postseason with a left forearm injury, it’s likely the Dodgers would be employing a different pitching strategy entirely.

“It's just the reality of where our ballclub's at,” Scherzer said. “I think Clayton Kershaw would be starting this game. Unfortunately, he's hurt right now. So this isn't by design. The Dodgers, as a whole, they looked at us to have four starters going in the postseason, but we don't. And so we're just trying to navigate this as best as possible.

“I would love to be out there for Game 1. But it makes more sense for me to start Game 2.”