Facing elimination in the NLCS, the Los Angeles Dodgers' pitching plans were thrown into disarray on Friday when it was announced that ace Max Scherzer would not be able to start Game 6 against the Atlanta Braves.
Rather than blame an injury for the late scratch, Scherzer's arm was reported to feel dead after his start in Game 2. Scherzer made that start on two days rest after a relief appearance to close out Game 5 of the NLDS. Those 13 pitches thrown apparently played a role in his scratch.
Ahead of Game 6 on Saturday, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made the somewhat surprising admission that Scherzer's moonlighting as closer ended up costing the team more than anticipated.
Roberts said the cost of using Scherzer in relief for 13 pitches in Game 5 has exceeded his expectations. Said he had to trust the player who felt it would be ok. “Could I have foreseen where we are now? No. But you still have to make the decision to get to this point.”
— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) October 23, 2021
The Dodgers have already announced that Walker Buehler, previously lined up to start a potential Game 7, will start in Scherzer's place on short rest on Saturday.
Scherzer told MLB Network's Heidi Watney that he believes he will be able to start a Game 7, though that decision may not be up to him.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) October 23, 2021
What were the Dodgers thinking?
With the benefit of hindsight, it's not hard to see how fatigue got to the 37-year-old Scherzer, who has pitched 196 innings this season between the regular season and playoffs. He was solid in the Dodgers' wild-card game, then stellar in Game 3 against the San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers raised some eyebrows by using him as a reliever, but it wasn't a completely out-there idea.
Some teams have used a starter as a reliever in between starts in the past, the idea being that the pitcher is seeing a workload akin to his throw day, which is basically bullpen work that most starters do between starts. A relief appearance is certainly more stressful than a bullpen session, but it's worked out in the past.
Scherzer didn't look quite his usual self in Game 2 of the NLCS, however, lasting only 4.1 innings. And then he was scratched for Game 6.
It's easy to criticize Roberts and the Dodgers' decision-makers, who have faced some scrutiny this postseason, but this is also what it looks like when a team has to play a wild-card game and a five-game NLDS after losing Clayton Kershaw (and Dustin May). The Dodgers have only three viable starters at this point — Buehler, Scherzer and Julio Urias — so they have to take risks. And it's worth noting the team may very well have not reached this far had they turned to a lesser pitcher for their final inning against the Giants.
The good news for the Dodgers is that Scherzer has been in a similar place before, and it still worked out. He was scratched for Game 5 of the 2019 World Series with neck spasms, but recovered in time to start the Washington Nationals' Game 7 win against the Houston Astros.