Dustin May, not David Price, grabs fifth starter role as Los Angeles Dodgers prepare to defend title


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Dustin May will open the season as the Los Angeles Dodgers' fifth starter, pushing David Price, the former Cy Young Award winner who is owed $64 million over the next two years, into an undefined bullpen role to open 2021.

Price will be one of three traditional starters available out of the Dodgers' bullpen to begin the regular season, joining Tony Gonsolin, who challenged for the National League Rookie of the Year Award last year, and veteran right-hander Jimmy Nelson, who returned to the Dodgers on a minor league contract. All three can provide bulk innings, and Price and Gonsolin in particular might also be counted on to pitch in high-leverage situations similar to the way Julio Urias was deployed over the past two years.

Keeping them all stretched out -- a necessity given the innings jump that will place a premium on starting-pitching depth throughout the sport -- will be a difficult balancing act that might play out all season.

"There's gonna have to be a little bit of bullpen gymnastics, pitching gymnastics, as far as the season," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "This is an unknown -- this season, coming off of last year. I think the ultimate goal that the players, the organization are aligned in is the fact that we want our guys, our pitchers, to be as sharp and as fresh and as strong for September, the postseason run. How you get there, how we get there, can be debated. We're gonna have to be nimble."

Price joined the Dodgers alongside Mookie Betts in February 2020, then announced his decision to opt out of the COVID-19-shortened season five months later. After the Dodgers signed Trevor Bauer, adding the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner to the team with the NL's lowest ERA in 2020, Price reached out to Roberts to let him know he would be willing to take on any role, even if it meant acting as a long reliever.

Price will fill that role, at least initially, which will at least help the Dodgers manage his innings after he has gone 19 months without pitching in a game that counts. Clayton Kershaw, Bauer, Walker Buehler and Urias will pitch in the season-opening four-game series against the Colorado Rockies that begins Thursday, respectively, and May will make his 2021 debut against the Oakland Athletics on Monday.

May, 25, won the job after posting a 3.10 ERA while striking out 90 batters and walking only 28 in 104⅔ innings from 2019 to 2020, a stretch that also includes the playoffs. But the 26-year-old Gonsolin -- with a 3.19 ERA, 96 strikeouts and 31 walks in 96 innings over that same stretch -- was also deserving. As was the 35-year-old Price, a five-time All-Star and World Series champion who has compiled 150 wins.

"It was easy, it was tough -- just a lot of variables that I really just don't wanna get into," Roberts said of the decision to choose May. "I just think that we feel good with David, Jimmy and Tony in the pen getting left, getting right out, taking down two, three, four innings. Potentially at some point, I expect those guys to even finish a game if it makes sense."