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Torre has six-pack of starting options

Torre has six-pack of starting options

WASHINGTON -- Dodgers manager Joe Torre is mulling over what you could call the baseball version of "new math" -- how to get six into four.

In other words, how -- and when -- is he going to trim his six-man rotation into the ideal four-man cycle he'll need for the postseason, which begins in less than two weeks?

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Dodgers at a glance
2009 record: 95-67
2008 record: 84-78
NL West champs
NL best record
NLCS matchup:
Phillies at Dodgers
Postseason tix: Buy now

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Loney: Taking good swings
Kuo: Long road back
Thome: Back in Philly
Loney: Building resume
Bullpen: Led by Broxton
Torre: Rep precedes him
Blake: Chemistry guy
Kershaw: Game 1 nod?
Dodgers: Eyes on prize
Kemp: Path of the pros
Furcal: Back healthy
Kershaw: Like Koufax
Hudson: Keeping head up
Billingsley: Unknown role
Ethier: Slump over
Torre: Tough decisions
Kershaw: Elite comparisons
Kemp: Nearly elite
Kershaw: Path to the pros
Billingsley: Fate in balance
Ethier: Aims to improve
Torre: Back to playoffs
Kershaw: Ready to rock
Rotation: Plenty of options
Kemp: Chasing LA history
Bullpen: Dominant pair
Honeycutt: Pitching guru
Kemp: Tools to match talent
Ethier: Walk-off wonder
Billingsley: Vying for spot
Ethier/Kemp: Dynamic duo
Torre: Another pennant race
Pierre: Receives high praise
Kershaw: Beyond his years

With the Dodgers, who are coming off a 7-6 win over the Nationals on Thursday night, still looking to wrap up a postseason slot, and with every victory down the stretch a key toward home-field advantage, Torre is typically somewhat reticent about his plans, but they are certainly becoming clearer.

At the moment, he has a healthy six-pack to choose from -- veteran right-handers Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla and southpaw Randy Wolf, as well as younger up-and-comers in right-hander Chad Billingsley, a 2009 All-Star, and 21-year-old southpaw sensation Clayton Kershaw.

And for the time being, at least, with nine games left in the regular season, he will work with a six-man rotation -- which features Garland, who starts Friday at Pittsburgh, Wolf, Kershaw, Kuroda, Billingsley and Padilla, in that order.

"We need, obviously, to keep everybody sharp," Torre said, "and the only way to do that is they'll all have to pitch some more."

That rotation was tweaked a bit on Thursday, when Torre officially announced that Kershaw, who had not started since Sept. 4 after injuring his right shoulder in a collision with the outfield wall while shagging flies, would be inserted back into the rotation this coming Sunday at Pittsburgh.

That move slides Kuroda, Billingsley and Padilla all back one day while keeping Garland and Wolf on their current cycle.

"Wolfie more than anybody [needs to be kept on cycle] because he's more of a touch guy as opposed to more of a power-type pitcher," Torre said. "I don't mind giving Kuroda the extra day, but with Wolf, you want him to stay sharp with his command and everybody else just has to fall in line."

Wolf, 33, has also been the team's most reliable and healthy starter all season. Signed as a free agent during the offseason, he is 11-6 with a 3.24 ERA -- 2.95 since the All-Star break -- and has struck out 153 batters in 203 innings, limiting hitters to a .227 average.

Kuroda, who missed a few starts last month after suffering a mild concussion when he was hit with a liner back through the box, is 8-6 with a 3.65 ERA in 19 starts and allowed just two unearned runs in six innings in his last outing Tuesday.

Kershaw, meanwhile, is 8-8 with a 2.85 ERA and had struck out 171 batters in 161 innings, limiting hitters to a .200 average. Those numbers include a two-inning hitless relief stint Tuesday night in his first game action since his injury. He will be on a pitch limit Sunday as he works his way back to full strength but he came out of the outing pain free.

"We're sort of ... I won't say juggling but trying to work it out, because when Kershaw does pitch he's going to have some limitations because he's been away awhile," Torre said. "So we may have some piggybacking going on and that's what we're talking about right now."

Odds seem to point in favor of Wolf, Kuroda and a healthy Kershaw nailing down three of those four presumed postseason spots with the other three battling it out for the fourth spot with the final two being counted on as needed in relief.

Coming into the All-Star break it would have been hard to fathom that Billingsley wouldn't be a lock for the rotation, as he had a 9-4 record and 3.38 ERA in 19 starts. But struggles with command and consistency since then have baffled the Dodgers. And even his start on Wednesday, in which he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against Washington before losing the no-hitter, shutout and lead when he walked two and gave up one hit, a three-run homer, wasn't enough to win him back that certain spot.

"I think the outing was much more positive than negative," Torre said. "But we still have some more work to do."

Still undecided was where Billingsley would factor into the rotation in the coming days.

"We're trying to figure it out with everybody healthy where we go and if we're going to piggyback guys," he said. "But he's important. You certainly want to be able to have him as an option and some ammunition because when he has his game going he's dominant."

Padilla and Garland, meanwhile, are the two new faces in the mix, both veterans coming over to the club in late-season moves. They've both pitched well for the Dodgers, with Padilla allowing four runs in five innings on Thursday night for a 3-0 record and 3.62 ERA so far with the club, and Garland, who starts Friday at Pittsburgh, 11-11 with a 4.02 ERA overall this season but 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA in four games in Dodger Blue.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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