Roberts defends 'off-script' pitching moves

October 19th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- Every decision in the postseason comes at a cost. For the Dodgers, that has been losing their last two games and falling into a 2-0 hole in the National League Championship Series against the Braves.

A day after pitching in the eighth inning instead of sticking with Blake Treinen, or going to Kenley Jansen, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stood by the team’s decision to use the left-hander in relief.

“A decision that doesn’t work out doesn’t mean it’s the wrong decision,” Roberts said. “I do know that everyone in that clubhouse believes that we’re going about it the right way and no one is compromised, so I think for me, for us, that’s the most important thing.”

The choice to pitch Urías in Sunday's Game 2 backfired when he allowed the tying runs in the 5-4 loss. It also had future implications: His availability for Game 4 is now somewhat in question. Urías, who played catch on Monday, will now have to be closely monitored to see how he bounces back from the 14-pitch outing, and there’s a possibility that he gets pushed back to start a potential Game 5 on Thursday as opposed to Game 4 on Wednesday, as originally scheduled.

How Walker Buehler pitches in Game 3 -- and how much the bullpen is utilized -- will also factor into when Urías next takes the mound. The Dodgers were planning to go with a bullpen game at some point over the next three games, so they can adjust depending on Tuesday’s outcome. But whenever Urías pitches, there’s no guarantee that he will be as effective as he was in the regular season, given that he would be making his fourth appearance in 11 days.

“I just can’t tell you how much I appreciate him and trust him and respect him,” Roberts said. “He’s a man, he’s a star player and I said this earlier, it’s like he’s not that 19-year-old rookie anymore. I get that in my head that he’s still this young guy. He’s a seasoned veteran. So whatever he feels [during Monday’s workout] will impact the decision on Game 4 or Game 5, and he’ll drive that.”

The Dodgers have had their fair share of unconventional pitching decisions this postseason -- and this wasn’t the only one to include Urías, either. Los Angeles started an opener ahead of Urías, MLB's only 20-game winner in 2021, in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. That strategy led to a series-clinching win, but it ultimately resulted in Los Angeles needing Max Scherzer to close out the ninth inning.

That move paid off, but again, came at a cost. Scherzer was unable to bounce back in time to start Game 1 of the NLCS, and in Game 2, he was limited to just 79 pitches while pitching with a “dead arm.” Scherzer, who went through his running routine at Dodger Stadium on Monday, said he’ll be ready to pitch in Game 6, if the series gets that far.

“We absolutely have a great bullpen,” Roberts said in justifying that NLDS decision. “I think that in the particular case with Max and talking through it with all of our guys, if you want to go back to Game 5, we felt that was the best chance to finish that game. It was a leveraged situation and we felt good about winning that game to get to the next round.”

Every pitcher is different, but Scherzer serves as an example of how pitching that many games in such a short span is much more difficult for a starting pitching than many may think. The Dodgers are hoping Urías doesn’t face the same fatigue Scherzer did.

“Things just aren’t, can’t be scripted,” Roberts said. “You’ve got to sometimes go off script to what we feel, what I feel is the best chance to win a game, let alone a particular series.”

But after winning 106 games during the regular season thanks to a loaded bullpen, why are the Dodgers deviating from a plan that worked so well for six months? After all, the Dodgers have gone 37-14 when Treinen and Jansen have both appeared in the same game, including the postseason.

Instead of protecting their healthy starting pitchers, why are they willing to overwork their starters and be even more short-handed in a rotation already without Clayton Kershaw? Have they been prone to overthinking the situation? Now, if they want the NLCS to return to Atlanta for a potential Game 6 or 7, they’re going to have to rely on a more conventional script.

“I think that Walker and the guys behind him tomorrow are going to prevent runs, and we’re going to score more than they will, and I think we’re going to do that in Game 4,” Roberts said. “I believe we're going to win this series. I believe we're going to win tomorrow."