Dodgers pitching staff will only get better this year

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Sporting Tribune's Doug Padilla writes about a Dodgers pitching staff that will get stronger as this season progresses.

LOS ANGELES — It was a few years ago, following the end of an unsuccessful playoff run for the Dodgers, when a major league scout summed up the situation succinctly.

“Ran out of pitching,” the scout said as the Dodgers limped into the offseason without a World Series appearance that was expected.

The assessment was delivered matter of factly and in one drawn-out word: “ranoutofpitching.” There was no shoulder movement, although you could see the shrug. Nothing else was said, although you could hear his, “No surprise.”

Twice in the past 10 seasons, the Dodgers had enough late-season pitching to win a title. In 2017, they had a championship in their grasp, but it was the Houston Astros who banged on the back of plastic buckets and took it away. In 2020, the Dodgers landed their title, when they pitched their way past the Tampa Bay Rays.

So many other times, the Dodgers have met their match, including alarming ends to each of the last two seasons with defeats in the National League Division Series against division rivals. In 2022, the San Diego Padres hit their way past the Dodgers and last year the Arizona Diamondbacks dominated on their way to their own World Series appearance.

Injuries abound

While the Dodgers addressed the starting depth this past offseason — hoping to become a club that not only dominates the regular season but the postseason as well — the early part of this season has offered a reminder of late-season pitching shortages.

Take the massive amount of talent that is on the injured list. With better health, the Dodgers could be operating with a five-man rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Dustin May, Bobby Miller and Tony Gonsolin.

Yet none of those starters are available. Buehler is the closest to returning in a few weeks from elbow surgery after not pitching since 2022. His immediate path forward is expected to be a delicate one.

The Dodgers added right-handers Tyler Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto over the winter and both have shown signs of the dominating form that was expected.

But both have yet to hit their strides, with Glasnow not yet admitting that all of his pitches were at his disposal for any of his starts. Yamamoto is much improved after a rough debut last month when he didn’t make it to the second inning.

The Dodgers already have used eight different starters. While a couple of those were openers out of the bullpen, they also asked right-hander Landon Knack to make his MLB debut this week and the early returns were positive.

Help on the way

While the major-league staff has been dealing with injury concerns, so is the minor-league staff with top pitching prospects Nick Frasso and River Ryan, out with injuries.

The 25-year old Frasso, a South Bay native who went to Loyola Marymount, is out for the season after labrum surgery in November. He was considered the top pitching prospect in the organization by

The 25-year-old Ryan, acquired from the Padres for Matt Beaty in 2022, is on the injured list at the moment with shoulder fatigue and might not pitch until June. Ryan is considered the second-best pitching prospect in the organization and fifth best overall.

Considering that Knack was the 13th best prospect at the start of the season, and at one point in his debut Wednesday he retired 10 consecutive batters, a linear comparison suggests that the near future is extremely bright. Five pitchers are ahead of Knack in‘s prospect pecking order.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts gave credit to the scouting staff when asked Wednesday about the organization’s embarrassment of young pitching riches.

“We do a lot of good things and I think we identify a lot of good talent, a lot of good makeup in players and we develop them” Roberts said. “It’s not easy to come here as a young player in this environment.”

The environment is no doubt difficult, with youngsters asked to blend in with some of the top talent in the game, while expected to contribute to a playoff chase and a division-title run. The scenario has repeated year after year.

Perhaps this is the season that the Dodgers buck the trend and use the early part of the season to get their starters in order so they can have plenty of momentum come October.

Glasnow and Yamomoto are on the way to being fully operational soon, with plenty of options in the rotation to come, as long as recovery plans stay on schedule. After Buehler’s return next month, Kershaw could be ready to return from shoulder surgery just after the All-Star break. May could be contributing just after the trade deadline.

Last year, the pitching staff stumbled to a 4.06 ERA that was near the middle of the pack after it led MLB in that category four times in the previous six seasons.

Heading into this weekend’s three-game series against the New York Mets, the Dodgers own a 4.14 staff ERA. Yet, if expectations hold true, that number should be melting away by the time October arrives.

At that point, maybe the industry assessment will become, “Ran away with it because of the pitching.”