Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw answers questions much more frequently than he creates them. He’s a stopper, and a damn good one, the starting pitcher that tilts Vegas sportsbooks the heaviest toward his team.
But when Kershaw was shut down by the Dodgers on Tuesday with back pain for an indefinite amount of time, a plethora of questions rose to the surface. Will the team trade Yasiel Puig? Can they count on Bud Norris for anything? Should they look for starting pitching? Where? All of the sudden, instead of counting down the days until his superstar southpaw returns, general manager Farhan Zaidi now has a massive headache.
First, and foremost, Los Angeles needs a starter. The club lost Hyun-Jin Ryu to injury before they could even welcome him back from his long DL stint, meaning two slots need to be filled for the time being. As it stands right now, the Dodgers’ rotation includes just Kenta Maeda, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Norris. And given the uncertainty of that list, they might need three or even four starters.
If you’re thinking the team can look internally, think again. Nineteen-year-old wunderkind Julio Urias is the easy solution for one of those spots, though it’s only temporary. If the Dodgers want to contend for a title like their wealthy owners would like them to, he’s not going to be enough. Urias will eventually hit his innings limit, on top of the fact that he’s still incredibly raw and volatile. Beyond Urias is Brock Stewart, Ross Stripling and Carlos Frias. Not exactly championship names, though Los Angeles could opt to lean on one of them.
So the question becomes, if the Dodgers want to go out and get in on some of that sweet, sweet trade deadline action, where does this team look, and do they give up Puig? The Cuban will likely land them a much nicer arm, but it comes at the risk of depleting the team’s offensive and defensive production. Sure, Puig is not hitting like he did when he debuted with the Dodgers, but he’s given Los Angeles average production in a down season. Joc Pederson, Kike Hernandez and Trayce Thompson, all on the shelf with injuries, weren’t exactly inspiring confidence before they went on the DL. Pederson hit some homers heading into the break, but will never hit for average, and Thompson and Hernandez have the tendency to fade into oblivion far too often.
In addition to the conundrum that a Puig trade would cause in the outfield, there’s not much out there. One could make the argument that Puig is worth more than any starter on the market, and that only a trade for multiple Rays starters would be a fair haul. Even if you don’t subscribe to that logic, at best, Puig might land the Dodgers Sonny Gray. Would they give up a star who’s under control for two more years, at an average salary of $7 million for Gray? A rebuilding team might have an easier time answering that question.
In all likelihood, the Dodgers will look for a rental. Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson and Andrew Cashner would be good pitchers to start looking at. They will eventually get Kershaw back, but they’ll need to keep contending until then or else he’ll be pitching in meaningless games.
A scare in Pittsburgh
Concussions, and concussion protocol, aren’t normally a contentious topic in baseball. On Tuesday night, however, something quite bizarre and troubling took place.
Pirates starter Jameson Taillon was struck in the back of the head by a 105 mph line drive off the bat of Brewers infielder Hernan Perez in the second inning, causing the ball to ricochet high into the air and into left field. Taillon was examined by trainers for several minutes before remaining in the game, and completing six frames.
Normally, when a player wearing a cap is struck in the head by a line drive, a serious injury is present immediately. We’ve seen pitchers through the years lay on the ground for five or 10 minutes after a hard shot to the skull. That’s why Major League Baseball began offering padded concussion caps to players.
Caps are not the issue at hand here, and on another note, it is highly unlikely that we see more comically oversized concussion caps unless a mandate comes down from the league office. What is particularly concerning is the fact that a player can take a line drive to the dome and continue to pitch. It’s not as if teams have an easy choice from a strategy standpoint if it’s a starting pitcher—a concussion test would take too long to administer during a stoppage in play, and to perform one, a manager would need to pull his starter from the game permanently.
While Tuesday night was a rare occasion, allow me to propose the following: Designate a neutral doctor to be on call at each game, and have him or her examine players for possible concussions if hard contact to the head occurs during the course of play. If a player passes his concussion test, give the manager the option to re-insert him into the game the following inning. This would afford much more thorough examinations, without the risk of losing a crucial player for what turned out to be nothing.
Player safety has been, and should continue to be, a priority for the league. If it is serious, it will at the very least look into other options for neurological tests. What happened with Jameson Taillon should not happen again, with what we now know about the severity of brain injuries.
Arrieta back on track?
Despite Cubs fans’ fears that he had succumbed to the team’s seemingly eternal curse, it appears Jake Arrieta is fixed.
Even Hector Rondon’s rocky ninth inning, and the Cubs’ 2–1 defeat, couldn’t spoil the overwhelming feeling of relief in the city of Chicago brought on by Arrieta’s seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball.
The reigning Cy Young Award winner struck out eight Mets, walked just one batter and registered his highest Game Score, a 75, since a win over the Pirates on June 17. There were concerns about his control, with nine walks in 10 innings to end June, then there were concerns about contact, with 17 hits in 11 ⅓, but on Tuesday, neither of those issues plagued Arrieta. Even his slider, which had wandered away from him, came back home; Arrieta threw 11 of 16 for strikes.
Perhaps Tuesday was a preview of what’s to come. A well-rested Arrieta, who pitched on 11 days’ rest thanks to the All-Star break, can hop back into the lead role in Chicago. The bearded one made it easy to forget his shaky start to the summer, and he could soon help erase the memories of the goats, headphone-wearing fans, and lip balm enthusiasts (Daniel Murphy) which have tormented them in years’ past.