What started as a potential preseason concern for the Dodgers has turned into a sudden midseason conundrum.
Less than two months into the schedule, the team’s starting pitching might need to be shored up.
It’s a result of injuries at the major league level, coupled with thinning options on the farm.
And although Major League Baseball’s trade deadline isn’t until the beginning of August, speculation about the team’s need to add more on the mound is already beginning to start.
It’s an issue that was under the microscope in a 9-3 loss to the first-place Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, when Noah Syndergaard gave up six runs in six troublesome innings that raised his earned-run average to 6.27 — eighth highest in the majors among pitchers with at least 40 innings.
“Just not a lot of positive emotion right now when I think about pitching,” a dejected Syndergaard said after giving up eight hits, one home run and plenty more hard contact. “Throwing what I’m possessing right now is not enough to successfully battle a team like that.”
At the moment, however, the Dodgers are short on other options, with Syndergaard (1-4) one of only three members of the team’s expected starting rotation who isn’t currently hurt.
Julio Urías will be out at least another week because of a hamstring strain. The team will know more about his timetable after he throws a bullpen session Saturday. Dustin May won’t be back until late July, at the earliest. He will be shut down four to six additional weeks after recently having a platelet-rich plasma injection for his strained forearm.
With Syndergaard continuing to struggle, Clayton Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin are the only veteran pitchers the Dodgers have been able to count on.
And though prospects Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller have flashed potential in their recent MLB debuts (another injured prospect, Michael Grove, is nearing a return from a groin strain), getting rotation reinforcements at the deadline is quickly looking like more of a need for a World Series-minded Dodgers club.
“Potentially,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Friday when asked whether the short-handed state of the Dodgers’ rotation will affect their trade deadline priorities.
“I mean, right now it’s early,” Friedman added. “I think using the first three, 3½ months to assess your roster and what the needs are helps crystalize how you approach things in July.”
Friedman remained optimistic about the current group, noting that “to this point, [our starting pitching] has been fine.”
He is staying confident that Urías’ injury won’t be a long-term issue. And though May’s status is more uncertain — Friedman said surgery was “initially” a possibility for May but is now considered off the table — he is still expecting the right-hander to return to full strength later this season.
“Right now with where we are, it’s gonna be a little more shell game-ish if we have more injuries,” Friedman acknowledged. “But we’re thinking through that and trying to be as prepared as we can be if that happens. Our goal is for it not to happen.”
Getting back to a fully healthy and an effective rotation, however, is looking more and more like a long shot.
Even if Urías and May return, Kershaw and Gonsolin offer no health certainties after each has spent time on the injured list in recent years.
Syndergaard, meanwhile, is edging closer to being an unviable rotation piece.
“We have some other options down the road,” manager Dave Roberts said when asked how much longer the Dodgers can continue to start the right-hander. “But I think right now, we’ve got to continue to run him out there and expect better results.”
Indeed, the Dodgers aren’t making any panic moves quite yet, rolling with Syndergaard every fifth day while offering their younger pitchers increased opportunities.
But continuing to bank on that combination represents a gamble in the long run.
Rotation questions are mounting. And the Dodgers’ deadline plans are only growing in importance. Although they entered the season confident in their starting pitching, they might have no choice but to eventually acquire more of it.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.