What Are The Dodgers Planning in the Rotation?

For all of the uncertainty and change we’ve seen in the Dodger roster thus far, one thing seemed secure: the starting rotation, which has been surprisingly effective and hasn’t yet had to stretch beyond the usual five to make a start. It’s with that in mind that today’s dueling news items about Nathan Eovaldi & Roy Oswalt came as such a surprise.

Let’s start with Eovaldi, who once again made an unexpected one-inning relief appearance last night rather than the start he was supposed to make. That fueled speculation that he’d be on his way to the big club to make a start, and it’s starting to sound like that’ll happen on Tuesday in place of Ted Lilly:

Nathan Eovaldi appears headed back to the Dodgers to make at least one start for left-hander Ted Lilly.

Lilly was off to a brilliant start this season, going 6-1 with a 1.79 earned-run average in his seven starts before getting knocked around for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in Arizona on Wednesday during his eighth start.

The Dodgers would not confirm that he was injured, but Lilly is not expected to make his next scheduled start Tuesday against the Brewers.

It’s odd that we haven’t heard a single word about Lilly being injured, but considering that he did start the year on the shelf with a neck injury and got hit so hard on Wednesday against the Diamondbacks, it’s probably not a stretch to guess that he’s fighting through some sort of issue. If so, fine. (And it would really have to be; I can’t imagine Eovaldi would come up for any other reason right now.)

But if the Eovaldi news makes sense, what about the Oswalt business? I’ve been asked about him semi-regularly this year, and I routinely shoot the idea down, saying it’s unlikely that he’d want to play on the West Coast and that the Dodgers don’t have room for him anyway. I still believe each of those to be true, but that only serves to make Peter Gammons’ report that Oswalt worked out for the Dodgers on Friday even more intriguing.

Now, let’s be straight about one thing: I still don’t expect Oswalt to end up with the Dodgers. It’s much more likely that he ends up with the Cardinals or Rangers due to his geographic presence, and Jon Heyman & Ken Rosenthal each report that the Dodgers don’t appear to still be involved. So anyone holding out hope that we see him wearing the home whites in Los Angeles any time soon should probably rein in those expectations.

Yet it’s not the end result that’s most interesting here, it’s the idea that the Dodgers seemed to involved in the first place, given that they have a full five-man rotation all signed through at least 2013 and Eovaldi ready to step in. Was it just due diligence? Or something more, because how would that have worked? Oswalt would be a nice addition to any team’s rotation, but there’s still no obvious fit.

Clayton Kershaw is obviously not going anywhere, and Chris Capuano has been generally excellent so far. Lilly had also been solid before his last outing, and absent any news that he suddenly has a long-term injury, replacing him makes no sense. Aaron Harang has been steady enough as the #5 starter, and while I’d shed no tears over not having him in the rotation, he’s basically done what he was expected to do when he signed. And then there’s Chad Billingsley, who is routinely infuriating and seems to have fit nicely into the Jonathan Broxton-shaped role of “Dodger who fans seem to absolutely and irrationally despise.”

I don’t argue that Billingsley routinely makes me want to throw things at the television, potentially more than any other Dodger, and he’s had some real clunkers lately. But I also know that his 3.88 ERA is right in line with his 3.82 FIP, and that hardly seems egregious enough to get bounced out of the rotation, especially when that FIP is better than both Lilly & Harang, and when his 8.41 K/9 is both better than Kershaw’s and better than he’s been able to put up since 2008. Besides, compare Billingsley & Oswalt’s FIP over the last five years. Oswalt has been somewhat better, but not by nearly as much as you’d think.

You could, I suppose, put Billingsley (or Harang) in the bullpen, though that seems like an odd fit since durability is a large part of what each brings – and neither has pitched in relief in years. (There’s also not an obvious opening in the pen, since I still believe in Todd Coffey & Matt Guerrier is going to be back at some point.)

Again, I don’t think there’s any chance that Oswalt lands with the Dodgers. But whether it’s him or something else, they’re clearly planning on investigating some sort of move there, and I’m fascinated to see what the thinking is.