The same Dustin May who pitched his first game in 15 months on Saturday night?
The same Dustin May who has made only 20 career starts?
This looks irresponsible.
This feels reckless.
Then again, watch how he pitched in a 7-0 victory over the Miami Marlins, and it’s clear why he’s figuring into the team’s postseason plans.
Over five scoreless innings, May threw four pitches clocked at 99 mph or faster. Another dozen were 98 mph-plus.
His pitches moved, his sinker tailing this way, his slider breaking that way.
The Marlins are a fourth-place team and their hitters had no chance, striking out nine times against the Sideshow Bob-haired fireballer. Their only hit against him was a single to right by Joey Wendle to start the game.
“As far as pure talent,” manager Dave Roberts said, “he’s a game-changer.”
The Dodgers don’t have another starter with as much upside. They also don’t have another potential playoff starter who is as inexperienced.
Walker Buehler is scheduled to undergo a season-ending operation to repair the flexor tendon in his right arm, leaving the Dodgers with a rotation that has plenty of depth but lacks an established ace.
Beyond that, the Dodgers will decide between May and Tyler Anderson to be the team’s fourth starter.
The rotation could require five pitchers in the National League Championship Series, in which Games 3 to 7 will be played on successive days.
In other words, if the Dodgers decide to start Anderson instead of May in the NL Division Series, May very well could start a winner-take-all Game 7 in the NLCS.
While Roberts said May is open to pitching in relief, the manager intimated that he would prefer to use him as a starter, considering he just returned from reconstructive elbow surgery.
“I think the most important thing is Dustin’s health,” Roberts said. “Trying to get him regimented, on some type of predictable schedule, gives him the best chance to perform and be healthy. So, obviously, that leads to being a starter.”
Something else to consider: Anderson started his season with two appearances as a long reliever and performed well in that role.
Roberts spoke carefully when talking about his team’s plans for May.
He wouldn’t say the Dodgers are counting on May to start games for them in the postseason. He wouldn’t say they view him as an insurance policy for Kershaw.
He wouldn’t say they are expecting him to replace Buehler.
The manager didn’t have to say any of that. The Dodgers already did, with what they did at the trade deadline — or, more specifically, with what they didn’t do.
They didn’t trade for a starter.
“I’m not really looking at it like that,” May said. “I mean, we got a lot of great guys on this team and a lot of guys pick each other up, so I’m just going to go out and do my thing. There’s no reason to put extra pressure on myself.”
Roberts claimed the anticipated returns of Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol and other relievers also factored into the Dodgers’ relative inactivity at the trade deadline. Roberts’ instinct to protect May was understandable, considering his experience in the major leagues was limited to the 1132/3 innings he pitched over three previous seasons. May pitched in the 2020 World Series but with mixed results.
“As you know, certainly, it takes talent, but you also have to be in big-league situations and navigate big-league hitters to be a game-changer,” Roberts said. “So I think as far as talent alone, and what he’s done in spurts at the big-league level, have been fantastic. I just don’t want to be the one to put any undue expectations on him solely on talent.”
What May’s return signified wasn’t lost on the Dodger Stadium audience, which was unusually engaged with what was happening on the field.
This crowd is accustomed to watching the Dodgers placed oversized bets with pitching, from the use of Urías as a part-time closer in its championship season in 2020 to the look-at-how-smart-we-are schemes that backfired spectacularly last year.
The Dodgers have placed another wager, this one on whether the May can do against the New York Mets or Atlanta Braves what he did to the Marlins on Saturday night.