LOS ANGELES (AP) – The Los Angeles Dodgers asked Julio Urías’ world as he took the mound for the fourth time in 12 days.
Although Urías was the sole winner of 20 baseball games this season, Los Angeles had used it in three roles this past week alone. Urías and the Dodgers claimed it was not something he could not handle, but the left-hander was out of rhythm and away from his normal preparation between starts when he took on the Atlanta Braves in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.
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As Urías left the Dodger Stadium bump Wednesday night with a five-run deficit, it seemed clear that Los Angeles was asking for too much — or not getting enough — from the top cones in its tumultuous rotation.
The Los Angeles front office ignores most traditional norms in an effort to get the most out of its pitching staff in October – but with the Dodgers on the verge of elimination, it’s clear that those decisions have not worked as the Dodgers boss Andrew Friedman hoped.
Both Urías and Max Scherzer have struggled in the NLCS when they were asked to start on just two days of rest after breaking up in relief. Walker Buehler also did not match his usual standard when putting on extra rest.
And now the Dodgers are down on their last chance to get those decisions right against the Braves, who have a 3-1 lead against LA for the second October in a row and three chances to deter the defending World Series champions. The Dodgers face elimination for the fourth time in these Game 5 playoffs.
Urías gave up three solo homers in two early innings — all on solid balls with four stitches in the low 90s — before being tagged for two more runs in the fifth. With his fastball speed slightly down from his usual spot, he gave up eight hits and hit just three.
Whether it’s due to the Dodgers ‘unusual strategy, the pitchers’ poor performance or the Braves ‘excellence, one thing is clear: the Dodgers’ top three starters have not set their normal standards,
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Three days after closing the NL Division Series in San Francisco, Scherzer could not get out of the fifth inning of Game 2 in Atlanta in his shortest playoff start since 2011. Two days later, Buehler lasted only 3 2/3 innings and left in Los Angeles’ win-behind-win in Game 3.
By the end of Game 3, the Dodgers had made 28 pitching changes in their last four games. With a planned bullpen game looming for Game 5, Los Angeles desperately needed a big start on short rest from Urías in Game 4.
Instead, the Braves hit him hard, putting the Dodgers against the ropes for the second season in a row.
In truth, the Dodgers’ rotation has been a patchwork group all year, highlighting their success of 106 wins. Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May and Trevor Bauer were key components in the rotation early in the season, yet Los Angeles somehow went into the offseason with the most quality starts in the NL.
Urías had not allowed three homers in a match since his second major league appearance in 2016, but Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Freddie Freeman all connected.
Urías ‘success in post-season relief is already part of the Dodgers’ lore: He was saved in LA’s championship win last season by 2 1/3 scoreless innings for relief against Tampa Bay in Game 6 of the World Series.
But the Dodgers stretched Urías even further in his last three appearances: He was a four-inning bulk reliever in Game 5 of the NL Division Series, and then moved on to the eighth inning of Game 2 of the NLCS, giving up Atlanta’s tie-breaking two-race rally on a day when he would normally perform his side work.
The Dodgers ‘debatable pitching strategies would not carry nearly as much weight if their expensive lineup had been able to hit the Braves’ relievers while Atlanta threw a bullpen game on Wednesday. Instead, LA could not get a hit until the fifth inning and finished with just four hits in Game 4.
And the Dodgers are still doubling: Tony Gonsolin entered the eighth inning of Game 4, limiting normal starter availability Thursday night when Los Angeles faces elimination with a bullpen game – though that may be a good thing, considering that Gonsolin gave up four races on the ninth.
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