LA rotation set for fierce spring competition

February 11th, 2020

LOS ANGELES -- About that Dodgers starting rotation…

Yes, the addition of Mookie Betts makes a scary lineup even more frightening to opponents, and the Dodgers have a pair of aces in and , in either order.

But it’s asking a lot for , who joins Betts in coming to Los Angeles, to replace Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Ross Stripling -- a quartet that combined for 30 wins and 83 starts, but now are all gone.

Dodgers starters led the Majors in 2019 with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP, while leading the National League with a .222 opponents’ batting average. Los Angeles starters allowed just 1.13 home runs per nine innings (third in MLB) and logged 893 2/3 innings, fifth in the Majors.

So, when the Dodgers set aside the euphoria of the Betts acquisition, their top Spring Training priority will be to find fourth and fifth starters from a group of candidates with plenty of questions, all guided by a brand-new pitching coach, Mark Prior.

Here are the contenders, in order of career MLB starts:

Wood returns to the club where he enjoyed All-Star success in 2017. He was sent to the Reds in the Matt Kemp/Yasiel Puig salary swap in '19, but was limited to seven starts and 35 2/3 innings by a persistent back injury. When he was healthy, he had a 16-win season ('17), so the Dodgers know the upside, but nobody knows if his back will hold up.

Wood has been the picture of health compared to Nelson, who has pitched only 22 innings since 2017 because of a major shoulder injury and an elbow issue. The right-hander seemed to have just figured it out with a 12-6 mark in '17 when he dislocated the shoulder sliding back to first base. When he returned to make 10 appearances in '19 (three starts), he struck out 26 in 22 innings, but also walked 17.

The talented Urías is at a career crossroads at age 23. Once the club’s top pitching prospect, he missed most of the 2017 and '18 seasons recovering from major shoulder surgery, then had his 2019 season derailed by a domestic violence suspension. Last year’s off-the-field debacle impacted the club on the field, as Urías was unable to fill the role of postseason starter and the ball went to Rich Hill, who was pitching with a blown-out elbow. If he doesn’t start, Urías could turn into a Josh Hader-type reliever.

Here’s the likely successor to Ross Stripling’s swingman job. In addition to his six starts in his rookie 2019 season, Gonsolin relieved in five games, and his stats were relatively similar in each role. The knock on Gonsolin is that he tired by the fourth inning. But the trade of Stripling is an indication that the Dodgers believe they are covered in that role, for which Gonsolin appears ideally suited.

The 22-year-old made the postseason roster last year as a reliever, but as the No. 9 pitching prospect in the game (according to MLB Pipeline), he’s destined to be a front-line starter. The only question is, when? The Dodgers tend not to have rookies begin the season in the big leagues to better manage usage, and no doubt there will be the customary talk about limiting his innings early so he can be a force down the stretch. There also are scouts that believe he’d make a nasty closer.