For the second game in a row, the Dodgers ended up utilizing a bullpen game. Unfortunately, that was unplanned in Saturday’s 6-5 loss to the Brewers in 11 innings at American Family Field, necessitated by an early exit from starter Dustin May.
With two outs in the second -- one batter after he surrendered a solo homer to Luis Urías -- May visibly winced following a 2-2 fastball to Billy McKinney. May signaled to the dugout for the athletic trainer, and, after a very brief conversation, the right-hander left the game with what manager Dave Roberts described as a “shooting sensation” in his elbow.
“We're going to get an MRI when we get to Chicago [to play the Cubs on Monday],” said Roberts. “So, we’ll remain hopeful, but we won’t know more until we get the MRI.”
May’s fastball had been sitting around 97-98 mph in the first inning, but it was down a few ticks in the second, with his final pitch of the day registering at 94.3 mph, his slowest fastball all season. He was replaced by left-hander Garrett Cleavinger, who made his first appearance since taking a 105.7 mph comebacker to his pitching shoulder in the ninth inning against the Reds on Wednesday.
The Dodgers ended up using all nine of their relievers, one day after calling upon five of them behind Edwin Uceta in a planned bullpen game. Jimmy Nelson, Scott Alexander, Dennis Santana, Victor González, Kenley Jansen and Blake Treinen combined for six scoreless innings before the just-activated Alex Vesia allowed the automatic runner to score on a sac fly in the 10th.
When the Dodgers retook the lead in the top of the 11th on Will Smith’s two-run triple, Vesia stayed on for the bottom of the frame, issuing two walks to load the bases before giving way to Mitch White. A sac fly and a pair of two-out hits later and the Dodgers had dropped the 10th of their last 13 games.
Two consecutive bullpen games could present the Dodgers with challenges in the coming days, as they have four games left in their stretch of 14 games in 14 days. The Dodgers already have 14 pitchers on their active roster, and Roberts said the club will make a transaction prior to Sunday’s finale to bring in a fresh arm. But it’s the potential loss of May that is a more pressing concern in the long term.
“I think that any time a pitcher comes out of a game and you start talking about the elbow, yeah, I'm concerned, certainly, for him,” said Roberts. “I don't want to kind of get ahead of it until we know more, though.”
If an injured-list stint for May is necessary, the Dodgers’ vaunted starting depth will have suddenly dwindled significantly. Tony Gonsolin and David Price, whom May edged out for the fifth-starter spot, are both on the IL after opening the season in the bullpen. Gonsolin, out since April 4 with right shoulder inflammation, is progressing in his recovery, throwing a bullpen session on Friday and expected to throw another in the next couple of days. Price, on the other hand, is expected to be out for several weeks after sustaining a right hamstring strain and landing on the IL on Monday.
Should the Dodgers opt to move someone into that fifth-starter role, White is a strong potential candidate to make the jump from the bullpen. Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the club’s No. 20 prospect, the 26-year-old White has a 3.97 ERA with 311 strikeouts and a 1.22 WHIP while working primarily as a starter in four Minor League seasons. Although he was charged with the blown save Saturday, White has not allowed an earned run through three relief appearances this year.
Another intriguing option is right-hander Josiah Gray, the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect. Gray is not currently on the 40-man roster, meaning a corresponding move would be needed to make room for him. He has also yet to pitch above Double-A, though he likely would have reached Triple-A last year were the Minor League season not canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But expectations are high for the 23-year-old Gray, whose fastball MLB Pipeline touts as “explosive.”
In theory, though, Los Angeles could go without a fifth starter for at least a couple of weeks. Following Sunday’s finale in Milwaukee and three games against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, the Dodgers have three off-days in the span of eight days, meaning they could work with four starters on regular rest all the way up until May 18. In the meantime, they’ll await news on May and hold out hope that time missed will be minimal.