It is barely two weeks into the season, and the team that employs the best pitcher on the planet and sports a world-record payroll suddenly faces a crisis in its starting rotation.
Brandon McCarthy will miss the rest of the season because of a torn elbow ligament, the team said Monday. McCarthy said he anticipates undergoing Tommy John surgery and hopes to return around the All-Star break next season.
The bullpen was supposed to be the weak link on the pitching staff, but the Dodgers' starters have a 4.08 earned-run average and the relievers a 2.44 ERA. With Brett Anderson failing to last even five innings in an 8-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Monday, the Dodgers' rotation has fewer quality starts than any National League West rival save the altitude-challenged Colorado Rockies.
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers' president of baseball operations, said trades in April and May "are pretty uncommon" and indicated the team would fill the vacancies internally for the next two months on a "turn by turn" basis.
"We'll wake up in June having scouted other organizations over the next four to six weeks, and we'll see where we are," Friedman said.
McCarthy, 31, signed with the Dodgers for four years and $48 million, the most prominent winter signing by the team's new front office. In his first nine years in the major leagues, he had started 30 games once and been on the disabled list 11 times, but never with an elbow injury.
McCarthy said the Dodgers had included contract language protecting them against a shoulder injury; Friedman said there was no elbow damage evident when McCarthy underwent a physical examination and MRI test before the Dodgers finalized his contract.
"This falls for me into the 'this could happen to anyone' category," Friedman said.
Friedman declined to say whether he believed Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has not pitched this season because of what the team has called inflammation and tightness in his left shoulder, would return by June 1.
He also declined to rule out trading any of the Dodgers' top young players or prospects — center fielder Joc Pederson, triple-A shortstop Corey Seager or double-A pitcher Julio Urias. The Philadelphia Phillies previously told the Dodgers a trade proposal for Cole Hamels would be a nonstarter if those three youngsters were untouchable.
"We don't have any hard and fast rules," Friedman said. "I think it would be incredibly difficult for us to trade guys who could be potential foundation pieces for us for a long time."
Hamels is available, and he could be particularly attractive since his contract runs through 2018. Kershaw is the only Dodgers starter under contract beyond this season and not on the disabled list. Greinke can opt out of his contract after the season.
By June, pending free agents could become available if their clubs are far out of the race. Such pitchers could include Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds, Jeff Samardzija of the Chicago White Sox, David Price of the Detroit Tigers and Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann of the Washington Nationals.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story stated David Price plays for the Tampa Bay Rays. He plays for the Detroit Tigers.
Scott Baker, who gave up three runs in seven innings in a spot start Sunday, will make at least one more start for the Dodgers, Friedman said. He said the Dodgers also could consider the rest of their triple-A rotation — Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias, Zach Lee and Joe Wieland — as well as two pitchers on the comeback trail from 2014 Tommy John surgery, Brandon Beachy and Ross Stripling.
Friedman did rule out calling up the 19-year-old Urias any time soon.
McCarthy was 3-0 with a 5.87 ERA in four starts; he had given up nine home runs in 23 innings. "I hope I am easily replaceable," he said.
He said he hopes to celebrate a championship at the end of the season, no matter how little his contribution would have been. He said he was disappointed to learn of the injury and said he could not help but wonder if the ligament still would have torn had he stopped pitching when he first felt discomfort in Saturday's game.
"That will be the only question I have," he said. "I don't know, if I kept going, if I was just making it worse. But I won't spend the rest of my life regretting it."
In 2012, McCarthy suffered a life-threatening brain hemorrhage when hit by a line drive off the bat of the Angels' Erick Aybar.
"I had way worse news delivered to me with the brain thing," McCarthy said. "The brain thing puts everything into perspective."
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