Sport Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw scratched from NLCS Game 2; rookie Tony Gonsolin will start vs. Braves
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ARLINGTON, Texas — The Los Angeles Dodgers, already facing a steep climb after, suffered another blow Tuesday when they scratched Clayton Kershaw from his Game 2 start due to back spasms.
Rookie Tony Gonsolin will make his postseason debut in Kershaw's place, a move that significantly alters the Dodgers' pitching calculus this series.
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Kershaw, the 32-year-old three-time Cy Young Award winner with a famously mixed postseason track record, was once again the Dodgers' best pitcher this season, posting a 2.16 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 10 starts. He also registered victories in each of the Dodgers' first two playoff series, shutting out the Milwaukee Brewers over eight innings and striking out 13 to close out their wild-card series sweep.
Now, the Dodgers will be hard-pressed to match the dominant Braves' staff with Kershaw out until at least Game 4. Dustin May, like Gonsolin a rookie right-hander, pitched 1 ⅓ innings in relief in Game 1 and manager Dave Roberts said afterward there was a chance May could start a Game 5.
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As for Game 3? Roberts said Tuesday Kershaw will not pitch then, either, and said there was a chance lefty Julio Urias would be held back in Game 2, depending on the circumstances. That could indicate Urias will get the ball in Game 3.
Urias and May served this season as regular starting pitchers, as openers and as relievers, but they can't do it all in a seven-day, seven-game series. Ideally for the Dodgers, the offense - held to four hits in Game 1 - produces enough that the club can stay away from Urias and May.
That could align Urias to start Game 3, Kershaw Game 4 and May a Game 5, with Game 1 starter Walker Buehler on turn for a Game 6.
But a lot has to go right for that scenario to unfold, starting with Gonsolin, facing a fellow rookie in Ian Anderson who has not yet allowed a run in two playoff starts.
Gonsolin has not pitched in a game since Sept. 26; a planned simulated game Saturday at Globe Life Field was downgraded to a bullpen session, Roberts said, after Kershaw mentioned his back woes. Gonsolin struck out one batter per inning this year and remains one of the Dodgers' most promising arms for the future.
Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw scratched from NLCS Game 2; rookie Tony Gonsolin will start vs. Braves
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"Tony is ready to take down tonight," Roberts said Tuesday. "You don’t know until you know, but betting on the person to execute, the adrenaline, the focus, is the goal."
But he's not Kershaw, who has made 27 postseason starts and planned to start his first playoff game near his hometown of Dallas. Instead, the lefty will grapple with back issues that first sidelined him in 2016, when he was limited to 21 starts.
He was scratched from his opening-day assignment in July due to back stiffness, but Roberts said his current malady is unrelated.
"He’s been an ace, he’s back to his form and being fully dominant," May said Tuesday. "He’s definitely a leader and a key guy to our group and I just hope he can come back."
Additionally, with no off days in this best-of-seven series, Kershaw has less time to recuperate - as does a Dodger bullpen pressed into service early when Buehler lasted just five innings. Buehler has been nursing a pair of blisters on his throwing hand, which gives Roberts pause to consider a start on short rest.
Gonsolin completed at least six innings in three of his five September starts, pitching seven innings once.
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Monday, Kershaw said he believed the seven games, seven days format would be an asset.
"You’re going to use everybody," he said. "Seven games, seven days, there’s not too many guys that can throw seven straight days. It’s going to be taxing for both sides but we feel good about our guys, 1 through 28. I think it’s favorable to us, so I like it."
Now, the format ensures Kershaw will only start one game this series.
The Dodgers will likely play a pitcher down until Kershaw returns; if he is replaced on the roster mid-series, he'll be ineligible to pitch in the World Series, as well.
That's the case for Braves outfielder Adam Duvall, who suffered an oblique injury in Game 1 and was replaced on the roster by Johan Camargo.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY:
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