Even after clinching their division title, as well as the best record in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers might be playing one of their most important games of the season at home Thursday against the Oakland Athletics.
Right-hander Walker Buehler is scheduled to come off the injured list and start Thursday, testing the blister on his right index finger that has placed him on the disabled list twice in the last 4 1/2 weeks. It will be his first career outing against Oakland.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says he intends to use Clayton Kershaw and Buehler as his starters in next week's opening round of the playoffs. He has not named a third starter.
But Buehler (1-0, 3.86 ERA) needs to prove he is up for the task, otherwise the Dodgers will have two playoff rotation vacancies. Buehler last pitched Sept. 8 at Arizona, lasting just 2 2/3 innings and leaving with continued finger issues. A television shot of Buehler's hand showed a bloody hole inside of what appeared to be a callus on his finger tip.
Outside of Kershaw and Buehler, the remaining starting options for the Dodgers are left-hander Julio Urias and rookie right-handers Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. As long as Buehler's blister issue doesn't regress, the Dodgers will only have to choose one of the three, and the decision on who to use could be based on who the Dodgers meet in the opening three-game series.
"For us, I think it's just more of worrying about ourselves, than preparing for any opponent we might face," Roberts said. "I think at the end of the day, they've still got to throw the baseball over the plate and we have to make plays and take good at-bats and do the same thing and get guys out. If we do that, we're gonna be fine."
Urias made a case for himself Wednesday, giving up one run on two hits over six innings. The Dodgers experimented by using Joe Kelly as the opener followed by Brusdar Graterol. Urias was called upon in the third inning and did not seem fazed by the adjustment.
The A's are scheduled to send right-hander Mike Fiers (6-2, 4.67) to the mound Thursday. Fiers has six appearances (five starts) against the Dodgers in his career, going 4-1 with a 2.00 ERA.
In his only other career start at Dodger Stadium in 2012, he gave up one run on five hits over seven innings while earning the victory for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Like the Dodgers, the A's also are working on lining up a postseason rotation. Left-hander Sean Manaea, who faced the Dodgers on Wednesday, will be in the rotation mix, along with right-hander Chris Bassitt.
In his final start of the regular season Manaea gave up three runs on six hits over six innings against the Dodgers.
Oakland will commit to a rotation plan when they know their opponent for next week's opening round.
"It just depends; we're not sure what we're going to do yet," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We'll probably try to create some scenarios to keep our options open, but I'm not going to overwork the starters at this point."
--Field Level Media