The Dodgers promised a youth movement this season.
This week in Atlanta, it’s taking center stage.
After injuries to Dustin May (forearm strain) and Julio Urías (hamstring strain), the Dodgers are planning to start top pitching prospects Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller against the Braves on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
Manager Dave Roberts confirmed Stone will pitch the series opener, in what will be the second major league start this season for the former fifth-round draft pick.
Miller, a former first-round pick and the No. 2-ranked prospect in the club’s farm system by MLB Pipeline, is expected to make his MLB debut Tuesday, according to people with knowledge of the situation unauthorized to speak publicly.
“It’s a great opportunity for these young pitchers,” said Roberts, despite not announcing Miller’s debut officially. “They’re both talented. It’s not what we expected. But that doesn’t really matter. The only way to look at it is, you’ve got to embrace this opportunity for these guys.”
Stone made his MLB debut May 3, giving up five runs (four earned) in four innings against the Philadelphia Phillies.
In his two triple-A starts since then, he’s given up three earned runs in 11 total innings, his two best minor league starts of the year.
When he returns to the majors this time, he will get at least three starts — and potentially several more — as the de facto replacement for May, who is expected to miss five to seven weeks with his flexor pronator strain.
“The unfamiliarity of [the big leagues], the novelty of it, he’s already done that,” Roberts said, voicing confidence that Stone will look sharper in his MLB encore. “Also, I think he’s throwing the baseball better in general. The changeup is better. The fastball command is better. So I just think that second time around, he’ll be a lot more comfortable than he was the first time.”
Miller presents more of an unknown.
The 24-year-old right-hander has been hailed as having the best stuff of any Dodgers minor league pitcher, coupling a triple-digit fastball with a slider, sinker, changeup and curveball.
However, he has struggled with inconsistent command at times in his pro career, and this spring experienced some shoulder discomfort that delayed the start of his triple-A season by a month.
Once he did return to full health, Miller was ineffective in his first three minor league starts this year, giving up 12 runs (eight earned) in 8 ⅓ innings. He bounced back last week in a six-inning, one-run, six-strikeout gem that flashed his potential.
“Skill-set-wise, there’s a lot of talent,” Roberts said of Miller, whose starting plans beyond Tuesday remain unclear and could depend on whether Urías is ready to return to action as expected when his 15-day IL stint is up.
In the meantime, both pitchers will be in for a difficult task against the Braves this week.
Not only will they be facing a first-place club with one of the majors’ better offenses, but they’ll be doing it in a hostile environment while matched up against two of Atlanta’s best pitchers — veteran Charlie Morton on Monday and major league strikeout leader Spencer Strider on Tuesday.
“There’s certainly maybe softer landing [spots for young pitchers],” Roberts acknowledged. “But it’s a good test. … It’s a great environment. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.”