It now seems possible — though not yet certain — that Ricky Nolasco will get tonight’s Game 4 start. Had the Dodgers lost last night to fall behind 3-0, I think that Zack Greinke absolutely would get the call on short rest, but now that you know today isn’t an elimination game and that you’re guaranteed a Game 5 tomorrow, that makes it easier to give Nolasco a start. I still think there’s a very good argument to be made to start Greinke and Clayton Kershaw on short rest today and tomorrow and worry about a possible Nolasco start in Game 6 when and if you get there — since you don’t know yet that Game 6 will even be played — but there’s a pretty good case to be made for Nolasco tonight too, so, fine.
But if you do start Nolasco, all you know you’re getting is a case of massive uncertainty. You don’t know if you’re seeing the Nolasco who was so outstanding when he first came to the Dodgers, or the one who was so brutal in his last few starts. You don’t know how he’ll be after not having started in nearly three weeks to the day; you don’t know how he’ll react in the playoffs for the first time after most of eight seasons pitching with the no-pressure Marlins. It doesn’t help that we know that the Cardinals kill righty pitching and struggle against lefties, which certainly didn’t hurt Hyun-jin Ryu last night, and so a Nolasco start tonight is full of questions.
That being the case, Don Mattingly needs a solid backup plan here. You can start Nolasco, but you do so with a very short leash; you can’t let him go out there and lose the game for you early. Now, the nominal long reliever here is Edinson Volquez, who has made two relief appearances in the last eight years, and hasn’t appeared in a game since starting September 26 against San Diego. Volquez is fine if Nolasco blows up and is down 6-0 after two and you merely want to eat up innings to save the bullpen for Game 5, but if it’s a close game — let’s say something like 5-4 after four innings — do you really want to rely on Nolasco to keep it that way?
Depending on the situation, maybe you turn it into a bullpen game. Only Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen pitched yesterday (J.P. Howell also warmed), but that’s a tough solution too. Volquez and Carlos Marmol aren’t exactly the kind of guys you want in a tight playoff game, and you need to consider the short turnaround to Wednesday’s day game, too.
So… might Kershaw be an option? He threw only 72 pitches on Saturday, rested Sunday, and had a short bullpen session yesterday. Remember, at this point, we don’t even know if he gets another start this year, since if Nolasco does start today, Kershaw would be lined up for the still-uncertain Game 6. Perhaps you can get an inning or two out of him today if needed, let him rest tomorrow and Thursday’s travel day, then have him at full strength or close to it on Friday.
It’s not ideal, of course. But neither was losing the first two games of the series, either, and desperate times call for desperate measures. You can’t allow Nolasco to go out and lose this game for you — if he even starts it. Hopefully, if he does, he pitches well enough that this isn’t even an issue.