May 18, 2024

There had been more than a few grumbles from the Dodgers about this day on the schedule, a double-header Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies during what could have been a critical closing week of the campaign.

“It’s not ideal,” manager Dave Roberts acknowledged of the schedule quirk, which was implemented to give the teams an off day Monday. “It’s certainly helpful that we’re coming off an off day and we’ve got guys fresh. But this is a place where games can get out of hand. You can run out of arms.”

By the end of Tuesday, however, all those concerns had dissipated.

No, these games didn’t mean much to the Dodgers’ season, thanks to them clinching the National League West this month and virtually cementing their place as the NL’s No. 2 playoff seed.

And, in a surprise twist that could bode well for their postseason fortunes, the Dodgers (96-60) didn’t run out of pitching either.

Instead, the club pieced together 18 strong innings on the mound at Coors Field, following a 4-1 loss in the afternoon matinee with an 11-2 defeat of the Rockies in the nightcap.

“We know what we’re capable of doing,” Roberts said. “And the most important thing is that those guys are bought in on the pitching side.”

Indeed, for a Dodgers club poised to use a patchwork pitching plan in the playoffs, Tuesday offered a stress test of sorts.

In the first game, the lone blip came at the start, when opener Caleb Ferguson surrendered three quick runs while collecting only two outs.

That continued an increasingly troublesome trend for Ferguson, a neutral-splits left-hander the club has indicated could open playoff games next month. While he has a 2.41 ERA and 1.29 WHIP as a reliever, his numbers as a starter (albeit in a small 6⅔-inning sample size) are significantly worse, with a 6.75 ERA and 2.10 WHIP.

“We’re gonna keep an eye on it,” Roberts said. “I know he has no problem with opening, and actually likes it. So if we can just clean some things up, then I think we can manage.”

From there, it was smooth sailing. Ryan Pepiot followed Ferguson as the bulk pitcher in Game 1, in another potential preview of how he could be used in the playoffs.

Over the six innings that followed, the rookie right-hander was dominant. He struck out a career-high nine. He gave up only one run, on a solo blast from Nolan Jones at the very end of his outing. And he lowered his ERA over 39 innings (he missed the first half with an oblique injury) to a minuscule 1.85, building his case to handle extended innings as a starter or bulk pitcher in October.

“He’s right there,” Roberts said of Pepiot’s place in the playoff plans. “He’s really tightened up his delivery. Everything he throws from the fastball, the changeup, the slider, it’s coming out of the same window … And he’s always on the attack.”

Dodgers' Chris Taylor congratulates Freddie Freeman, who hit a two-run home run.

Dodgers’ Chris Taylor, left, congratulates Freddie Freeman, who hit a two-run home run off Colorado Rockies pitcher Gavin Hollowell during the sixth inning on Tuesday in Denver.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Fellow rookie Bobby Miller was equally impressive later in the night.

Already entrenched as the Dodgers’ likely Game 1 or 2 starter, Miller only added to his productive debut campaign, giving up two runs over seven innings while striking out nine.

“I know it’s a little mental block when you come pitch here in the altitude, but you can’t let that get to you,” said Miller, who was aided by four hits from James Outman, three hits from Max Muncy and two RBIs apiece from Chris Taylor, Freddie Freeman and David Peralta.

“You just have to stay in attack mode, stay in the zone and don’t try to walk anybody,” Miller added after improving to 11-4 with a 3.89 ERA.

Miller will make one more start in the regular-season finale Sunday in San Francisco, according to Roberts. That lines him up a day after Clayton Kershaw, and potentially hints at the order of the Dodgers’ rotation for the best-of-five NLDS that begins Oct. 7 — though their pitching plans for the playoffs have yet to be finalized.

Worried he might have to burn through all 14 pitchers on the roster Tuesday, Roberts ended up needing only six

Concerned their young arms might struggle in a doubleheader at high altitude — even against a last-place team — the Dodgers instead got a reminder of the potential they possess.

There’s still doubt about the Dodgers’ ability to hold up on the mound during an extended playoff run. But if Tuesday was another obstacle, they cleared it with ease.

“Looking at a doubleheader a ways back, this is something that was pretty daunting,” Roberts said. “And we couldn’t have got through it any better.”

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