In my latest piece at Baseball Prospectus today, I looked into what young and at-risk starting pitchers may need to be shut down or otherwise limited down the stretch as they begin to meet and exceed their previous seasonal high marks for innings pitched. Though Michael Pineda, Jordan Zimmermann and Alexi Ogando ranked as the highest concern, our own Rubby De La Rosa made the list as well:
Forced into the rotation about a month ago when fifth starter Jon Garland’s season ended due to injury, he’s offered the club plenty of value (3.74 ERA / 3.94 SIERA), striking out more than a man per inning while doing some on-the-job learning with his control at the major league level. While his debut has been a nice surprise, he is also already nearing a career high in innings pitched with 85 2/3 combined innings under his belt between the minors and majors this year. His previous high was 110 1/3 innings last season, which followed three years in which he totaled just 69 2/3 frames. The Dodgers are woefully out of the chase, so the priority must be on preserving the 22-year-old for the future–not pushing him beyond his limits this year in pursuit of an October run which will almost certainly not come.
De la Rosa doesn’t have a lot of experience under his belt and could hit his previous high with about four more starts. The Dodgers have said little about an innings limit for him, though it is worth noting that he is slotted fifth in the post-break rotation largely as a way to hold him back a little. It’s likely that he won’t be allowed to go beyond 130-140 innings, which may not be enough to get through the entire season. However, the Dodgers have little behind him to fill in–Triple-A staff fillers Dana Eveland and John Ely are the most likely candidates, neither very appealing–and that need could get even more pronounced if Hiroki Kuroda is dealt before the deadline. That simple fact may force the Dodgers to push de la Rosa beyond what they would otherwise want to.
Let’s look into that a little more deeply. De la Rosa probably gets to his previous high in about four more starts. Since he’s scheduled to start the fifth game after the break on July 19 (nine days of rest since his last start), that would put him there roughly in the first week of August, assuming none of the starts are disasters in which he gets knocked out after 1.1 innings. From there, it’s unlikely he’d be allowed to beyond another 30 innings or so, which is about five starts. Since the Dodgers have a few off-days in August with which they can juggle their rotation if they so choose, that could probably get them to the first or second week of September. At that point, they’ll probably be finishing out a 71-91 season, so if a few starts there have to be taken up by Eveland or Ely, well, who cares.
That’s the perfect scenario, but we should know by know that this rarely ever happens. What if Kuroda gets traded in the next two weeks? What if the elbow soreness Ted Lilly previously reported returns? And, though I hate to even entertain the thought, what happens if Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw miss some time due to an as-yet-unforeseen ailment? With Garland and Vicente Padilla both out for the year, the Dodgers just don’t have a lot of starting pitching depth, unless you’re really dying to see reclamation project Randy Keisler or the rushing of a Nathan Eovaldi from AA. For a team that is already teetering on the brink of public relations disaster on a daily basis, there’s a definite difference between letting AAA guys take 2-3 starts in September and needing one or two of them to be rotation regulars for the final two months.
If trades or injuries weaken the rotation, it could be much more difficult to lighten up on de la Rosa. (It’s here where someone will remind me that it’ll be irrelevant when Ned Colletti deals Jerry Sands for Bronson Arroyo or Brett Myers. Shut up, you.) For a player without much of a track record who is nonetheless expected to be a big part of the future, this is a situation we’ll need to watch closely.