Dodgers say Knebel, not Scherzer, will start Game 1 of NLCS

ATLANTA (AP) — Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wants Max Scherzer at full strength against the Atlanta Braves.

Roberts believes an extra day of rest will have Scherzer ready to go.

Los Angeles is starting Corey Knebel in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series on Saturday night instead of Scherzer, who instead will start Game 2 on Sunday night.

Roberts said Saturday the decision was easy after talking with Scherzer following the team’s workout in Atlanta on Friday night and learning the right-hander was “arm tired” after pitching in relief on Thursday in Game 5 of a Division Series.

“Ultimately it was, ‘I can take the ball, I’ll go as long as I can, I don’t know what it’s going to be like,’” said Roberts of his discussion with Scherzer, adding the right-hander said with another day’s rest he’d be able to “give us a full start” on Sunday.

“So for us that’s a no-brainer,” Roberts said. “When you’re talking about a five-game series, it might have been a different conversation, but when you’re talking about potential seven games that you have to win four, it was pretty much a no-brainer for us.”

On Friday, Roberts said he planned to start Scherzer at Atlanta only two days after the right-hander earned his first career save in the team’s NLDS-clinching win at San Francisco.

However, the plan was contingent upon a final go-ahead from Scherzer.

Scherzer confirmed “my arm was tired” following his relief appearance.

“You close that game, I would expect my arm to be tired,” Scherzer said Saturday.

“The bigger question was, how was it going to be to bounce back for today? I have zero experience of trying to pitch on one day of rest, like relieving and come back. I do have experience of pitching on two days. In the 2019 run when I did pitch against the Dodgers, like I relieved Game 2, and then started Game 4. And even in Game 4, that start, I think I went to a hundred pitches and that was a very taxing start in and of itself.

“So I knew that if I was going to pitch today, I was going to be limited in some form or capacity, that it was going to be somewhere in the pitch count between, call it, 60 to 90. I have no clue.”

Scherzer agreed after talking with Roberts “what made most sense is just go pitch Game 2 and then you’re on a full slate and we know how to navigate games when I’m at full capacity.”

The opener assignment is not a new role for Knebel, who was 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA in 27 games, including four starts, this season. Knebel also opened Thursday’s game in San Francisco.

Roberts said Tony Gonsolin will work behind Knebel and be available for 60 to 75 pitches.

Scherzer was 15-4 with a 2.46 ERA for Washington and Los Angeles this season, including 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA in 11 starts for the Dodgers. He has pitched 12 1/3 innings over three appearances in the playoffs, allowing two runs and six hits with 16 strikeouts.

Scherzer earned his first career save in a 2-1 victory over San Francisco on Thursday night in Game 5 of the NLDS.

Left-hander Max Fried will be Atlanta’s Game 1 starter, followed by Ian Anderson and Charlie Morton. Braves manager Brian Snitker plans to have a bullpen game later in the series, likely in Game 4.

The plans for the bullpen game affected the makeup of the Braves’ NLCS roster. Snitker will have 14 position players and 12 pitchers as he prepares to use pinch-hitters earlier in the bullpen game.

The Dodgers are carrying 13 position players and 13 pitchers.

The Braves added right-hander Chris Martin and infielder Johan Camargo to their 26-man roster. Martin and Camargo replace left-hander Dylan Lee and outfielder Terrance Gore from the Braves’ roster for the NLDS win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Dodgers bolstered their pitching staff for the best-of-seven series, adding left-hander Justin Bruihl and right-hander Evan Phillips. They replace left-hander David Price and first baseman Billy McKinney from the Dodgers’ NLDS roster.

“We wanted the extra arm,” Roberts said. “So that took McKinney off, took McKinney out of the equation, in our opinion.”

Roberts said he wanted Bruihl for matchups with left-handed hitters. Roberts said it wasn’t easy to leave Price off the roster.

“With David and his experience, it was a very difficult call for us,” Roberts said.

The added bullpen depth will help Roberts’ decisions in Saturday night’s game.

The Braves are opening the series without outfielder and leadoff hitter Jorge Soler as they await his clearance following his positive COVID-19 test. Dansby Swanson hit leadoff after Soler was pulled from the lineup before Game 4 of the NLDS.

Snitker has Eddie Rosario starting in left field and hitting leadoff in Game 1.

“I just thought Eddie would be as good a choice as anybody,” Snitker said.

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