PHOENIX — Brandon McCarthy just placed a reservation for a spot in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rotation for the remainder of the season.
With no fewer than three starters on the mend, including Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers will have to make decisions when it comes to their pitching staff. McCarthy wants in on the action, and performances like the six scoreless innings he delivered Saturday against the Arizona Diamondbacks will help make his case.
He left with nothing to show for it as the offense behind him faltered and Kenley Jansen blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning. The Diamondbacks completed their comeback with a 2-1 victory in 12 innings. The Dodgers went 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position and left the bases loaded in the seventh and 12th innings.
McCarthy was long done by then, having completed his own mission in fine fashion. Afterward, manager Dave Roberts was asked about both the bullpen and the offense but veered off in a different direction.
“First and foremost, Brandon threw a heck of a game,” Roberts said. “To come back here against his old team and give us a great outing was exciting for all of us. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get him the win. That was the longest he’s gone out there, so to have him go [six], I wanted to be sensitive of his health going forward.”
When Kershaw returns, potentially as early as next week, McCarthy figures to stick around. He made his 2016 debut on July 3, after sitting out for more than a year because of Tommy John surgery, but is making up for lost time in a hurry.
The scoreless outing was his second in only three starts; he has used the increased velocity that surfaced before his injury to go along with a sinker and fashioned a 1.69 ERA over his first 16 innings. McCarthy even managed to reach six innings in an efficient manner. His 77 pitches Saturday were the same he threw when delivering five innings July 9 at home.
Roberts would not comment when asked if his starters are basically in auditions to keep their spots, but the situation no doubt has that feel. McCarthy has more to think about than what the coaching staff will do with the rotation, but he admits it’s a situation that is hard to not consider.
“I think everybody (has a sense of it),” McCarthy said. “We have a lot of pitchers coming back, and coming back soon. It’s kind of on all of us to just keep pitching well. Everybody wants to earn their spot and show everything they can, but I don’t think it’s like a spring training situation; it’s just guys wanting to pitch well during a major league season.”
After Kershaw returns, the Dodgers will next need to carve out a rotation opening after Alex Wood comes back from his sore elbow, perhaps in a few weeks. Further away would be the return of Brett Anderson from a back procedure in spring training. Roberts already has said he has no intentions of going to a six-man rotation.
The Dodgers could always mix and match starters in the second half, sort of a five-men-for-six-spots scenario, meaning a couple of starters might end up sharing a role. It might be a way for the Dodgers to keep pitch counts and innings totals in check.
But McCarthy doesn’t look interested in sharing either. Traded away from the Diamondbacks during the 2014 season, McCarthy’s 160th career start was actually his first as a visitor at Chase Field.
It has been a mixed bag since leaving the desert, where he lives full-time now. He pitched well immediately after joining the New York Yankees in 2014 and signed a hefty four-year, $48 million contract with the Dodgers before last season, but then was hurt after four starts.
The next time he takes the mound, later in the road trip, he will have made as many starts this season as last. And, at 33, his stock appears to be on the rise.
McCarthy didn’t have his best fastball, the one that emerged after leaving Arizona, but he baffled the Diamondbacks with his sinker instead.
“I felt like I was able to get a grip on things early,” McCarthy said. “I was a little out of sync like last start but I was able to figure it out, unlike last time. I was competitive in that regard, which I was happy with.”
Afterward, McCarthy said all the right things but seemed like a guy who would have appreciated going longer into the game and pushing his pitch total past the 80 mark.
“I want to get more innings,” he said. “Pitch count is going to slowly evolve getting through the lineup a few more times. That’s something that will come as you continue building strength, so I wanted to make sure that I want to maximize innings, maximize efficiency. Getting through six is encouraging, but you’d like to start moving into seven and eight when you’re pitching well. That’s going to come in a little bit of time.”
And, by the looks of it, the Dodgers will give him the chance to go deeper into games.