As tough stretch begins, Dodgers’ starting pitching keys doubleheader sweep of Cubs

Left-hander Clayton Kershaw pitched seven scoreless innings as the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 7-0 in the opener of a doubleheader Saturday at Wrigley Field. The Dodgers won 6-2 in the nightcap. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

Every season comes with difficult stretches in the schedule.

What the Dodgers embarked upon Saturday, however, is shaping up to be a uniquely demanding test.

Over a 30-day span, they will play 31 games in six cities. It includes just one off day and two doubleheaders. It will force workloads to be managed in the lineup. And it will test the depth and stamina of a pitching staff that has been strong over the first month but is also dealing with key injuries in the rotation and bullpen.

“Although yesterday was a great day to have off,” manager Dave Roberts said Saturday morning, following the team’s rainout against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, “there’s always a cost.”

The strongest solution: efficient, dependable and deep starting pitching.

And in a doubleheader sweep against the Cubs on Saturday at Wrigley Field, the Dodgers’ rotation started the monthlong marathon on the right foot.

During a 7-0 win in the afternoon game, Clayton Kershaw spun seven scoreless innings, clicking with catcher Austin Barnes — who also had a home run and three RBIs — to efficiently mow through an aggressive Cubs lineup despite getting only two strikeouts.

In the nightcap, the Dodgers won 6-2 behind a five-RBI performance from Mookie Betts, who went two for five with a three-run double and two-run homer, but also a solid five-inning, two-run, seven -strikeout start from Tyler Anderson.

“It starts with Clayton,” Roberts said of the Saturday sweep. “And the guys did a nice job.”

Dodger starters have now pitched at least five innings and given up no more than two runs in eight straight games. They have a 1.20 ERA in that span and a major league-best 1.86 ERA on the season.

They’ll need more of the same over the next month. With such a condensed schedule, any run of poor starts could create compounding problems for the rest of the staff.

“It’s gonna be a big stretch for us,” Kershaw said.

Added Barnes: “They’re gonna need to go deeper in games a little bit to save our bullpen in those 31 days. Kersh, he takes pride in going deep into games. All our pitchers do. I think they all have the ability to do that. So I think it’ll save our ‘pen later on, which will be huge.”

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Tyler Anderson delivers during the first inning.

Dodgers starter Tyler Anderson gave up two runs over five innings in the second game Saturday, earning the win as LA prevailed 6-2 for a doubleheader sweep. (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

Some discouraging injury news Saturday only underlined the point.

Roberts said Blake Treinen’s shoulder injury, which has kept him out since April 14, “still doesn’t feel good” and that the right-hander is scheduled to see a doctor and get another MRI exam in Los Angeles on Monday.

Treinen has already had one MRI that Roberts said didn’t reveal any structural damage, but the pitcher has yet to progress.

Even with Tommy Kahnle back from Tommy John surgery, David Price clear of COVID-19 protocols, Caleb Ferguson and Victor González nearing returns from the injured list, and the rest of the Dodgers’ bullpen off to strong starts — the team ranks third in th majors in bullpen ERA — Roberts called Treinen “the most valuable reliever we have.”

“It hasn’t shown itself yet,” Roberts added when asked how big of a blow a long-term absence of Treinen would be, “but it’s costly.”

It makes the starters’ role all the more important during this 30-day stretch too.

Roberts said the Dodgers will likely use a six-man rotation at times during the next month. Andre Jackson and Mitch White, who also cleared COVID-19 protocols and is scheduled to begin getting stretched out as a starter, are both options. Top pitching prospect Ryan Pepiot, who has a 2.05 ERA in six starts with triple-A Oklahoma City this year, is in the conversation too.

“We’ve kicked some ideas around … to give the [other] starters an extra day [of rest],” Roberts said. “It’s ultimately going to happen. I just don’t know exactly when or who it’s going to be.”

For now, the Dodgers are getting plenty from their current group. All five current starters have ERAs below 3.00. Injured Andrew Heaney is set to begin a throwing progression, though he is likely more than a month from returning. And on Saturday, the rotation had one of its best collective days, reinforcing the Dodgers’ hope it can anchor the team during one of the most difficult portions of the season.

“It’s a really good start,” Roberts said. “We’ve been speculating with the workload of the relievers, so now to pick spots to extend starters is going to be really valuable.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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