HomeSportsGavin Stone reminds Dodgers why he might be the best Yoshinobu Yamamoto...

Gavin Stone reminds Dodgers why he might be the best Yoshinobu Yamamoto alternative

In the wake of Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s shoulder injury last week, the Dodgers didn’t feel the need to identify a new No. 2 starter.

They weren’t necessarily counting on anyone else in their rotation to take their game to the next level.

“This [other] First of all,” manager Dave Roberts said, “we just have to go out there and be ourselves.”

Still, recent history suggests that at some point the Dodgers will need someone to fill Yamamoto’s role at the top of the rotation. Few teams can succeed in the playoffs without at least a few legitimate options on the front line. During their recent failures in October, the Dodgers too often fell short in terms of elite-level pitching.

Read more: Dodgers sacrifice short-term gains (a win Wednesday) for long-term goals (World Series)

This week the team looked at their top internal choices to accomplish such a task.

And on Thursday, in a 5-3 win over the Colorado Rockies, Gavin Stone showed glimpses of the dominance that could make him their best current alternative.

Stone’s final line Thursday — in a game, the Dodgers got home runs from Shohei Ohtani, Will Smith and Freddie Freeman, plus three hits from Teoscar Hernández — wasn’t overwhelming.

He threw 5 ⅓ innings. He gave up two runs. Both scored after he left the game with the bases loaded in the sixth.

But over the first five innings, Stone once again showed his continued newfound dominance, further fueling his status as a potential front-line weapon.

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“I think for any starting pitcher you just have to evaluate: Do they have the weapons to get shut out, to get out right away, to be efficient, to control the baseball, to get a strikeout when needed is, and you can go through the lineup three times,” Roberts said. “He’s checked all those boxes and for me he’s only going to get better.”

When Yamamoto went down last weekend – his rotator cuff strain is not expected to end his season but leaves his ability to be a top-tier weapon in doubt for now – there were immediate questions about what it would mean for the Dodgers. ‘ long-term pitching plans.

Their rotation was still led by Tyler Glasnow, a Cy Young candidate early in the season with a 3.00 ERA and 125 strikeouts in the MLB.

Dodgers right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto pitches in a home uniform at Dodger StadiumDodgers right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto pitches in a home uniform at Dodger Stadium

But beyond that, it was unclear who could become the true No. 2 – in case Yamamoto doesn’t regain his form (or health) before the end of the season.

Walker Buehler, the club’s former top player, struggled in his return from Tommy John surgery even before landing on the injured list with a hip injury. Bobby Miller, a rookie playoff starter for the Dodgers last year, had his season sidetracked by a shoulder injury before giving up five runs in his return to the rotation on Wednesday.

Clayton Kershaw is nearing his own return and remains on track for a late July/early August activation after pitching three innings with single-A Rancho Cucamonga on Wednesday during a rehab assignment.

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“He blew through this,” Roberts said of Kershaw. “I hope it continues.”

But relying on a 36-year-old veteran who was coming off his first career surgery was a risky business.

The early prospects of a relatively weak trade market for starting pitchers also don’t offer many clear external targets.

That’s why Stone’s emergence was so welcome, giving the Dodgers not just another productive regular-season pitcher, but one who showed more and more October-worthy stuff in the process.

An All-Star selection might not be out of the question either.

“I wouldn’t have bet on that happening this season,” Roberts said. “But the way it’s played out over the last three months, if that were to happen, man, it would certainly be well deserved.”

In 14 starts this season, Stone now has a 3.04 ERA, 13th in the National League. He has eight wins and trails only Luis Gil of the New York Yankees for the MLB rookie lead.

Even if the Dodgers insisted they didn’t need one, he’s blossoming as their best option to replace Yamamoto in the rotation’s hierarchy.

Gavin Stone delivers on June 8 against the New York Yankees.Gavin Stone delivers on June 8 against the New York Yankees.

Gavin Stone delivers on June 8 against the New York Yankees. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

“He’s just going to be one of those guys,” Freeman said, “where you have a good chance to win every chance he has.”

On Thursday, the mile-high pitch didn’t bother the 25-year-old, changing up his typical sinker-heavy pitch mix slightly by using more of a four-seam/changeup combination.

He rarely faced stress on the bases until the sixth inning, retiring twelve of his first fourteen batters before stranding a pair of runners in the fifth.

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“The first five innings, I thought the command was incredible,” Roberts said.

Stone eventually left after walking two and singled in the sixth, when Roberts felt he was “hitting some kind of wall” at hitter-friendly (and high-altitude) Coors Field.

However, the outing was also Stone’s fourth in his last five starts with at least six strikeouts — he hadn’t done so since his season debut in late March — a promising sign for a pitcher whose success once depended on limited contact.

“It’s probably just work [pitching coaches] Connor [McGuiness]Marking [Prior] and I’ve made bets during bullpens and stuff,” Stone said of his growing swing-and-miss abilities. “Just execute certain pitches a little better.”

Read more: Dodgers’ Walker Buehler, still in “search mode,” is on the injured list with a hip injury

His ability to supplement a signature changeup with sliders, cutters and sinkers also remains a boon, easing the issues he faced during an up-and-down debut season last year when he largely relied on just three pitches.

“I think he was searching and searching last year – finding himself in the big leagues,” Roberts said, reflecting on Stone’s 9.00 ERA in 2023. “This spring he just had a different attitude. And that certainly continued into the season.”

There are still countless boxes Stone needs to check between now and the playoffs. There are still many steps ahead of him on the road to October’s success.

Nevertheless, his production has been a boon for the Dodgers’ beefed-up pitching staff.

Unless Yamamoto returns at full strength, someone will have to strengthen the club’s rotation.

And of all the options available right now, Stone might seem like the best choice.

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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