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Game 2 postponement could affect Dodgers' pitching plans in NL division series

Game 2 postponement could affect Dodgers' pitching plans in NL division series
Members of the grounds crew at Nationals Park try to keep water off the tarp Saturday before Game 2 of the NLDS was postponed. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

As he walked through the Dodgers clubhouse on Saturday afternoon, Yasiel Puig spotted a crowd of reporters surrounding Rich Hill, the team's starter for Game 2 of the National League division series.

"Nice game!" Puig said. "Seven innings. That's OK."

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Hill managed a grin. An evening of rain brought by Hurricane Matthew postponed Hill's first postseason start in nine years, one he hoped would deliver his team a two-game lead.

The Dodgers and Nationals wanted to avoid a day wrecked by the rain, but the forecast mutated as first pitch approached, and Major League Baseball chose to reschedule Game 2 for Sunday afternoon.

The initial hope, when the teams arrived at Nationals Park in the morning, was for a break in the rain between 5 and 8 p.m. local time. The weather did not cooperate. In announcing the postponement, Commissioner Rob Manfred indicated the updated forecast predicted the rain would not cease until 8 p.m., and then be followed by a shroud of mist.

The commissioner's prediction did not exactly come true. The rain stopped around 4:30 p.m. EDT. The sky above the ballpark stayed clear as the sun set. But by then both teams had vacated the premises.

"It is what it is," Hill said. "You can't control the weather. I'm sure everybody would have preferred to get it in today and have the day tomorrow to fly back to L.A."

Instead, the clubs will traverse the country and play again on Monday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. The situation also fortified the Dodgers' plans for pitching for the rest of the series.

With the compressed schedule, Manager Dave Roberts sounded less willing to use Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest in Game 4. Even before the postponement, he indicated he preferred to use Julio Urias in that game, unless his team faced elimination.

The rainout dampened the decreasing chance of Kershaw's returning so soon. Roberts expressed confidence in Urias, the 20-year-old rookie with a 3.25 earned-run average in 15 starts.

Asked if Kershaw was no longer an option for Game 4, Roberts said, "I just don't see it happening." He also indicated it was "even more unlikely" that Hill could pitch Game 5 on short rest, which he would have to do after starting Sunday.

The Dodgers could change their strategy if they lose the next two games. But for now, they will commit to Urias, who faced Washington twice this season. He held the Nationals to a pair of runs in a five-inning outing June 22. A month later, making an emergency start at Nationals Park, Urias turned in a four-inning, one-run performance.

"The thing is, with Julio, this will be the biggest moment in his major league career, but I just think that his temperament, his pulse, has been consistent," Roberts said. "As he's continued to make major league starts and pitch innings, the way his mound presence has evolved, he's carried himself really well. And also the pitch mix. When you're looking at attacking hitters, he's got an ability to get hitters out a lot of different ways."

Roberts insisted Kershaw's performance in Game 1, in which he labored for five innings and gave up three runs and eight hits, did not affect the choice. A night after logging 101 pitches, his highest output since June, Kershaw ran in the outfield and played catch. His routine stayed consistent.

"For me, last night has no bearing on our decision, going forward," Roberts said. "He says he feels great. That's the most important thing for us."

The Dodgers utilized the bullpen to back up Kershaw in Game 1. Roberts sent Joe Blanton, Grant Dayton and Pedro Baez to collect seven outs. Kenley Jansen gobbled up the last five.

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Heading into Saturday, Roberts indicated Jansen could go for four outs. Instead he received a day off. Jansen would be well-rested for Game 2, but there would be no days off until after Game 4, if the series goes that long. Roberts said he would be mindful of the situation, but not hamstrung by it.

"I'll definitely take their usage in mind, but they've pitched three days in a row before," Roberts said of his relievers. "So, we'll see how it plays out. If we get the opportunity to win a baseball game, I'm going to be aggressive to do it."

The players started to stream out of the clubhouse as Roberts spoke. Their schedules had all just gotten more complicated. Roberts tried to stay positive.

"It's a lot easier going from the East Coast to the West Coast," he said. "I think with our guys, we've been in different circumstances all year. It's something that's going to be the same thing for those guys. So I don't know if it'll affect anything."

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes

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