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Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw pitching on short rest could depend on Game 3

Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw pitching on short rest could depend on Game 3
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw delivers a pitch during the team's loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League division series on Friday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Ugh, you can't win? Sometimes it certainly must feel that way to a manager.

Leave Clayton Kershaw in and it backfires. Take Zack Greinke out and it backfires.

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Now Manager Don Mattingly is faced with another headache-inducing decision – whether to start Kershaw on short rest in Game 4 of the Dodgers' division series against the Cardinals.

Is there a perfectly right answer? No such luck. Is there still an obvious one? Absolutely.

Mattingly has to decide whether to bring Kershaw back Tuesday with one fewer day of rest than normal between starts, or save him for a possible Game 5.

It probably goes down like this: If the Dodgers win Game 3 behind Hyun-Jin Ryu on Monday, then Mattingly can come back with Dan Haren in Game 4 and have the luxury of saving Kershaw for either Game 5 or the opener of the National League Championship Series.

If the Dodgers lose Monday and are down 2-1 in the best-of-five series, the call in Game 4 has to go to Kershaw. Whether Mattingly or anyone else really likes it or not.

The only potential snag is how long Ryu goes. He hasn't pitched since throwing one inning on Sept. 12 and then heading to the disabled list with a sore shoulder.

Twice this season, Ryu came off DL stints to throw at least 80 pitches in his return start. He threw six innings in one start and seven in the other. Mattingly said Ryu could throw 100 pitches in Game 3, which is nothing if not wishful.

But what if Ryu goes only five innings Monday? Does Mattingly turn the game over to his cover-the-eyes bullpen? Or does he bring in Haren for long relief? If he does and the Dodgers lose Game 3, Mattingly has no other choice but to bring Kershaw back Tuesday.

No doubt Mattingly would like to avoid sending Kershaw out on short rest in the first round of the playoffs, particularly after his meltdown in the seventh inning of the series opener. Yet if your choice to save the season is Haren or the best pitcher in baseball, that's no decision.

Haren, of course, has been pitching well of late. In his last seven starts, he is 3-1 with a 2.09 earned-run average and he's held opponents to a .176 batting average.

He is 4-2 with a 4.05 ERA in seven lifetime starts against the Cardinals. Haren faced them once this season, allowing three runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings and walking two on July 18. That was during his worst five-game stretch (0-5, 10.03 ERA) of the season.

There are master plans and the plans you make up along the way.

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