Already thin on starting pitching depth, the Dodgers’ rotation suffered another blow Saturday before a 6-5 loss to the Cardinals.
Two days after a woeful three-inning, six-run start against St. Louis, left-hander Julio Urías was put on the 15-day injured list because of what the Dodgers called a left hamstring strain.
The move came as a surprise. Despite Urías being removed after only 68 pitches Thursday night — and a third inning in which he gave up four home runs — neither he nor manager Dave Roberts indicated the pitcher had any physical problems.
Before the announcement, Roberts even said Urías was expected to make his next scheduled start Tuesday night against the Atlanta Braves.
Instead, Urías is now the second key pitcher in the Dodgers’ rotation to land on the IL in the last week, joining Dustin May after the right-hander suffered a forearm strain Wednesday that could keep him out at least five to seven weeks.
The good news for the Dodgers: Urías’ injury isn’t believed to be as serious, with the team hoping that he will be ready to return once his minimum 15 days on the IL are up.
“It should be short,” Roberts said, adding that Urías went on Saturday night to get a scan on his hamstring, which the manager revealed was bothering the left-hander Thursday night.
“It’s one of those things,” Roberts added, “we can’t let that bleed into something worse.”
In the meantime, the Dodgers will have to scramble to replace their opening day starter, having few obvious alternatives to call upon within the organization.
Right-handed prospect Gavin Stone already was expected to replace May beginning Monday, though Roberts has yet to make that decision official.
Beyond that, all other options are murky.
Top pitching prospect Bobby Miller has made only four starts in triple A this season after dealing with a shoulder issue in spring training, posting a 5.65 earned-run average in 14 1/3 innings.
When asked this week whether the right-hander was an option to replace May, Roberts indicated the 24-year-old wasn’t ready for his major league debut yet — though it wasn’t immediately clear whether Urías’ injury might change that calculus.
Another right-handed prospect, Michael Grove, recently recovered from a groin strain that sidelined him for the last month. However, Roberts said he left the team Saturday to begin a rehabilitation assignment with triple-A Oklahoma City, probably eliminating him as an option for a big-league start next week.
Dylan Covey had been the Dodgers’ best veteran starter in Oklahoma City, with a 4.22 ERA in seven outings (six starts). However, after pitching four innings of long relief for the big-league club Wednesday, Covey was designated for assignment and claimed off waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday.
The Dodgers’ other three veteran triple-A starters — Matt Andriese, William Cuevas and Robbie Erlin — all have ERAs over 5.00.
The Dodgers have leaned on right-hander Andre Jackson in a long relief role, getting 14 2/3 innings from him (along with a 7.98 ERA). However, he was optioned Friday for the third time this season, making him ineligible to be recalled for a couple of weeks unless he replaces another player who goes on the IL.
The club also has a strong double-A rotation, headlined by prospects Nick Nastrini, Nick Frasso, River Ryan, Emmet Sheehan and Landon Knack. None of them, though, has pitched beyond that level.
“We’re gonna find a way like we always do,” Roberts said.
“But guys are gonna get opportunities.”
After winning last year’s National League ERA title and finishing third in Cy Young Award voting, Urías had been battling inconsistency this year.
Through 10 starts, he was just 5-4 with a league-average 4.39 ERA. His biggest problem has been with the long ball, as his 14 homers given up were tied for the most in the majors.
Still, for a first-place Dodgers club that was banking on its starting pitching to be a strength, the loss of Urías for any stretch represents a potentially critical blow.
The team’s top remaining pitcher is Clayton Kershaw, who has missed extended time in each of the last two years because of elbow and back problems.
The club will need to lean more on right-handers Tony Gonsolin and Noah Syndergaard too, making Syndergaard’s five-inning, three-run start in Saturday night’s loss to the Cardinals an encouraging sign — even while the Dodgers’ ninth-inning rally ended on a controversial called third strike to Mookie Betts.
“Noah could have folded the tents,” Roberts said after Syndergaard, who entered the game with a 5.94 ERA, gave up three runs to the Cardinals in the first two innings.
Instead, Roberts noted, “he gave us five innings and kept us in the ballgame.”
Nonetheless, it all adds up to one of the first major plights of the Dodgers season.
Starting pitching depth already had been a concern. Now, it’s looming as a possibly dangerous pitfall for a team facing a sudden barrage of injuries on the mound.