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Dave Roberts has ‘no hesitation at all’ about Dustin May pitching Game 5

Dodgers starting pitcher Dustin May delivers against the San Diego Padres.
Dodgers starting pitcher Dustin May will start Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves on Friday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The prospect of starting a rookie pitcher in an elimination game doesn’t faze Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who will send Dustin May, the lanky right-hander with the fiery red hair and blazing fastball, to the mound against the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night.

And why should it? After watching Braves rookie right-handers Ian Anderson and Bryse Wilson, who each made a grand total of six regular-season big league starts before this postseason, shut down the Dodgers in Games 2 and 4 of the NLCS, maybe it’s the prudent thing to do.

“I have no hesitation at all,” Roberts said after Atlanta’s 10-2 Game 4 victory at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Thursday night gave the Braves a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. “[The Braves] have thrown some young guys at us in big games, so Dustin will be ready to go tomorrow night. He’s raring to go. He knew about it [Wednesday]. I know he’s fired up.”

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The 6-foot-6, 180-pound May has a fair amount of playoff seasoning for a 23-year-old who pitched in only 14 regular-season games in 2019 and 12 this season, going 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA, striking out 44 and walking 16 in 56 innings.

He pitched twice against Washington in the NL Division Series last season, and has three appearances this postseason, throwing two hitless innings with three strikeouts in Game 1 of the NLDS against San Diego, one hitless inning in a one-inning start in Game 3 against the Padres, and 1 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 1 of the NLCS against Atlanta.

“Everything just means more,” May said earlier this week, when asked about pitching in the playoffs. “If we lose, we go home. We’ve got to win to stay in it, so that’s the biggest key right now.

“We’ve got to come out with the W, so whatever is called upon, we need to go out and execute what we’re in there to do. We’ve got to go in and do our job. That’s it.”

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It won’t be easy. The Braves have shown they can be just as pesky and productive and relentless as the Dodgers, putting a six-run, seven-hit sixth-inning rally together against Clayton Kershaw and relievers Brusdar Graterol and Victor González on Thursday night.

Atlanta sent 11 batters to the plate and went six for nine with runners in scoring position during a half-inning that lasted 35 minutes. Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna had RBI doubles, and Dansby Swanson turned around a 100-mph fastball from Graterol, lining it down the left-field line for a two-run double.

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Austin Riley smacked a 98-mph fastball from Graterol to center for an RBI single to cap the rally. Ozuna also hit a 422-foot homer to left off Kershaw in the fourth, a 434-foot homer to center off Dylan Floro in the seventh and an RBI single to center off Jake McGee in the eighth.

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“They’re similar to us as far as they build on momentum really well,” Kershaw said. “It seems like they have that domino effect, and when one thing gets going, they continue to build on that. And they’ve got great hitters too. They have a great team. We just have to come back and win [Friday].”

May has the stuff to subdue any major league lineup. He mixes a lively two-seam sinking fastball that averaged 98.1 mph this season with a 94-mph cut fastball, an 87-mph curve and an occasional 91-mph changeup.

The limelight doesn’t seem to bother him. When Kershaw was scratched from the July 23 season opener because of back issues, May stepped in and gave up one earned run in 4 1/3 innings of an 8-1 win over the San Francisco Giants.

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“That was huge for me,” May said. “It kind of started things off, because I wasn’t going to be on the roster to open the year. So it opened up a spot for me to come in and show my stuff and show why I deserve to be up. It played out in my favor to be able to stay up all year.”

The Dodgers felt their rotation depth would give them an advantage over the Braves, and though it hasn’t so far, they should have an advantage Friday night. Atlanta manager Brian Snitker did not name a Game 5 starter after Thursday night’s game, and he said a bullpen game is a possibility.

If the Dodgers can win Friday night and extend the series, they would have ace Walker Buehler lined up to start Game 6 against Atlanta left-hander Max Fried, who yielded one run and four hits in six innings and struck out nine in the Braves’ 5-1 Game 1 victory over the Dodgers. A Game 7 would likely pit Dodgers right-hander Tony Gonsolin against Anderson.

But before they get to a Game 6 or a Game 7, the Dodgers must get a solid start from May if they are to keep their hopes of winning their first World Series since 1988 alive.


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