SAN DIEGO -- Two days after clinching a fourth consecutive division title, the Los Angeles Dodgers have set three spots of a potential four-man rotation for the National League Division Series and have locked in an outfielder as well.
Manager Dave Roberts said Tuesday that left-hander Clayton Kershaw will start Game 1 and left-hander Rich Hill will take the mound in Game 2 of the series against the Washington Nationals. When the series shifts cities, the Dodgers will come back with right-hander Kenta Maeda for Game 3.
Providing support for those pitchers will be outfielder Yasiel Puig, who has made it back from an early August demotion to the minor leagues to secure a spot on the postseason roster.
"He's earned it," Roberts said.
After the Dodgers work their way through their first three starters in the NLDS, they can come back to Kershaw on short rest for Game 4 or add a fourth starter. Roberts said he is keeping his options open that deep into the best-of-five series.
While Kershaw has come back on short rest in previous NLDS matchups, his missing 75 days this season with a lower-back injury could have the Dodgers taking a more cautious approach. Then again, if the club is facing elimination, Kershaw could be pressed into duty for an elimination game.
After team president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said last month that Julio Urias would not start if the team made the postseason, that plan has now changed. Urias will start Thursday at San Diego, and the 20-year-old rookie could be the rotation's fourth man in October.
"I think it's still on the table," Roberts said. "I think when you get to the postseason you have to go with your best, and we've been so mindful of his usage. We obviously do a lot of research and studying with matchups. So at the end of the day, Julio is our best matchup, and it makes sense, then yeah it's worth the discussion. So it's still on the table."
Urias is 5-2 this season with a 3.53 ERA and has made huge strides since struggling in his major league debut against the Mets at Citi Field on May 27, when he gave up three runs on five hits and four walks in 2 innings.
Taking his first two major league appearances out of the mix, Urias is 5-1 with a 2.85 ERA in 15 games, 12 of them starts. And he has made just three appearances in September, throwing only 11 innings.
"That is exactly what kept Julio in play moving forward because there were times where we felt that we could have pushed his innings a little more considering where he was at in the rotation," Roberts said. "But because we didn't and had other guys step up in that role, it has given us this flexibility."
Kershaw will make his final appearance of the regular season Saturday at San Franciscoand then be pointed toward his Oct. 7 start against the Nationals. He will go into the postseason with five starts since returning from the disabled list Sept. 9. He is 1-1 with a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings since returning, giving him a 1.65 ERA this season.
Hill, who missed six weeks with blisters on two fingers of his left (pitching) hand, is 2-2 with a 1.93 ERA in four starts since returning from the disabled list.
Maeda was the starter in Tuesday night's 7-1 loss at San Diego and will start the season finale at San Francisco. By making these two starts, he will receive a $1.5 million bonus on his incentive-laden contract. He already has made more than $8 million in bonuses on top of his $3 million base pay.
"Obviously what Kenta has done for us, and I don't know all the specifics of his contract, but I know in the spirit of his contract if he performs and he posts, he's going to be compensated," Roberts said. "I applaud our organization for acknowledging that and putting Kenta in a position to continue to be compensated and take care of his family because he has deserved it."
Both on-field and off-field factors led to Puig's demotion in August, after the Dodgers acquired outfielder Josh Reddick from the Oakland A's. But since his return when rosters expanded in September, Puig has helped the Dodgers with run production against left-handed pitching, their biggest weakness this season.
"It's tough to humble yourself and check your ego and go to [Triple-A] Oklahoma City and be a minor league player, but he did that and learned from it and he earned the right to be a major league player," Roberts said. "We talk a lot about it being a privilege to be a major league player, and to his credit, he really understands what that means. And he has done a lot to help us win a lot of baseball games."