Who’s Going to Start on Monday?

With Eric Milton likely out for the year following back surgery, the Dodgers are short a starter for Monday’s game against the Reds, the fifth game following the All-Star break. So… who’s it going to be?

Eric Stults (5000-1)
Though I don’t think the team agrees, Stults would have been my #1 choice; we have been backing him pretty hard all season, and his 9 starts are the most of the “non big four” guys. Unfortunately, Stults threw 94 pitches in AAA last night and is almost certainly unavailable for Monday.

Claudio Vargas (3000-1)
Vargas was signed to be a part of the 5th starter competition, and he’s been pretty good since returning from the DL – allowing just 3 hits and 0 runs in 4 games. However, he’s gone just one inning in each of his outings as he works back from arm troubles; I can’t imagine they now try to ask him to go 4 or 5 innings, especially after pitching in both of the first two Houston games.

Jeff Weaver (2000-1)
Weaver was almost certainly going to be the choice, as he’s already stepped into the rotation five times this season, with varying degrees of success. However, thanks to Chad Billingsley’s disastrous start last night – getting only 5 outs – Weaver had to step in and throw 58 pitches over 4.1 innings. Actually, coming in like that and getting that many outs was a pretty big deal, because as badly as the pen was beat up, it could have been much worse. There’s no way Weaver starts Monday on two days rest after that, but he should be available as a backup plan, as he did yesterday.

elbertontheroad.jpgScott Elbert (2000-1)

Elbert’s never started a major league game, but he has been primarily a starter in the minors, even through this season. He has pitched each of the last two days, but only 42 pitches combined. I suppose that having him make his starting debut on just two days rest is probably unlikely, but there’s also the possibility that they’ll want to showcase him for a possible trade.

Charlie Haeger! (1500-1)
Okay, I don’t really think that Haeger’s got much of a chance to be called up, but it would be awesome if he did, because who doesn’t love a knuckleballer? Not only that, he’s been very good in the high altitude of Albuquerque, earning an All-Star berth with a league-leading 8 wins. He was especially good in June, with a 2.09 ERA, and novelty of the knuckleball aside, isn’t someone who’s an innings eater exactly what we need right now? He’s gone at least 6 innings in 12 of his 15 starts, something that none of the big leaguers can come close to saying. Haeger’s scheduled to pitch tonight, so we’ll know pretty soon if he’s got any prayer.

James McDonald (20-1)
We all know McDonald wasn’t very good when given the 5th starter spot at the beginning of the season, but since returning from the minors in June he’s been fantastic: just 7 hits and 1 run allowed, with a 10/3 K/BB ratio, in 10 innings. All of those outings have come out of the bullpen, and that’s really the question, isn’t it – is there some reason he’s more effective out of the ‘pen? I don’t have an answer for that, and I would love to see him get another shot to see if he’s truly turned the corner. He’d also avoid the issue of having to make a roster move (i.e., “sending Blake DeWitt back down again“), but then there’s also the worry of weakening a bullpen that’s already missing Ronald Belisario and has a hobbled Jonathan Broxton.

Jason Schmidt (10-1)

schmidt2007.jpgDear lord, I can’t believe I’m calling Jason Schmidt, of all people, the most likely to do anything involving physical activity. If he were to actually get the call, I’d still think he’d be just as likely to hurt himself putting on his uniform in the locker room than to actually make it out to the mound; even then, people in the front row may want to be extra careful during warmups for fear of his arm flying completely off and hitting them in the face. (sidenote: this would be awesome.)

But it sort of makes sense, doesn’t it? The Dodgers obviously have a need for a starter, and Schmidt is not only rested (hasn’t pitched since July 12), but he’s at the end of his minor league rehab stint, which expires on – you guessed it – Monday. I think that aspect has been a little overblown, because the Dodgers could just option him to AAA (he’d be allowed to refuse, but I can’t imagine he would or that any other team would want to take on his contract). Schmidt hasn’t been great in AAA, but he has pitched at least 5 innings in his last 5 starts without ending up in the hospital. We’re quickly running out of time to see if he’s going to give us anything from his massive contract, so if you bring him up and he gets hurt again, well, who cares? It’s not like he was helping anyway, so you might as well give it a shot.

That’s right: MSTI is advocating that Jason Schmidt start on Monday. The end times are upon us.

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