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Dodgers clinch playoff spot with win over Padres

Los Angeles Times — By Jorge Castillo Los Angeles Times

Sept. 16-- SAN DIEGO-The announcement Wednesday morning set off alarms: Brusdar Graterol, not Dustin May, would start the series finale against the San Diego Padres. May was scheduled to make his first appearance since taking a groundball off his left foot last week. It was a scare, but tests showed the foot wasn't broken. He was supposedly ready to go.

And he was. The Dodgers just decided they were going to treat Wednesday like an experiment for October, not like the big game between clubs vying for a division title down the stretch with a chance to clinch a postseason berth that it should've been because Major League Baseball's playoff format rendered the result unimportant.

Instead, the Dodgers had Graterol serve as an opener and deployed May later in the game. On the other side, the Padres unleashed a stream of pitchers to slow a highly anticipated matinee to a crawl.

Ultimately, the Dodgers won the battle of the bullpens, 7-5, to win the series, increase their lead in the National League West to 3.5 games, and secure a playoff berth for the eighth straight season. The magic number to clinch the NL West title is six with 10 games remaining.

May still pitched 5 1/3 innings, but he entered in the third after Graterol and Adam Kolarek secured the first six outs. It was the longest relief appearance by a Dodger since Jose Lima logged 5 2/3 innings out of the bullpen in 2004.

Once he took the mound, May cruised until the end of the outing. Jurickson Profar slugged a two-run home run with two outs in the seventh inning and Manny Machado launched a solo shot with one out in the eighth to chase him. He allowed three runs on three hits with six strikeouts and one walk. It was the first time he allowed more than two runs in 10 outings this season.

The 16-team postseason format MLB officially unveiled Wednesday effectively altered how rosters will look and teams will play in October. Without off days during from the Division Series through the World Series, deep starting rotations will be more important than in recent postseasons after the wild-card round.

But teams could opt to aggressively use relievers in the wild-card round-a three-game series played at the higher seeded team's home ballpark-because at least two off days will follow before clubs enter a bubble for the five-game Division Series.

So, Wednesday became a trial run for the Dodgers (35-15) while the Padres (32-19) used nine pitchers over using a starter to pitch multiple innings against a possible playoff opponent.

"We have five starters that we like a lot," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, "but there's certain matchups that you can kind of benefit from."

May is one of those five starters along with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, and Julio Urias. Roberts said Alex Wood, a starter to begin the season, won't rejoin the rotation.

Buehler is on the injured list because of a blister problem, but recently threw a six-inning simulated game at the team's alternate training site at USC with the blister covered. Roberts said the plan is for him to throw another simulated game before making a start at Dodger Stadium next week in preparation for the playoffs.

If healthy, Buehler would likely start Game 2 of the wild-card round. The Dodgers could then use the blueprint unveiled Wednesday for Game 3, if it's necessary.

Graterol was the opener and logged 1 1/3 innings before Adam Kolarek was summoned to finish the second inning. The goal was to optimize matchups. The duo allowed one run.

May was then inserted to cover the bulk of the game before Victor Gonzalez and Pedro Beez were summoned for the final 1 2/3 innings. The strategy worked Wednesday. Whether it works in October remains to be seen.

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THREE TAKEAWAYS

1. AJ Pollock opened the scoring in the second inning with his 100th career home run, a solo shot to center field off Padres starter Adrian Morejon. The homer traveled 426 feet. Chris Taylor also hit a home run that traveled that far in the sixth inning.

2. Mookie Betts became the first Dodger to steal three bases in a game since Trayce Thompson in 2016. The total, reached in the game's first five innings, matched the right fielder's career high.

3. Justin Turner went 2 for 3 with a walk, making him 5 for 7 in two games since coming off the injured list Tuesday. The third baseman is expected to continue as he team's designated hitter at least until Friday.

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Roberts said an MRI exam revealed that the ulnar collateral ligament in reliever Caleb Ferguson's left elbow is structurally damaged. Ferguson was placed on the 10-day injured list before Wednesday's game. He injured the elbow on his third pitch of his relief appearance Tuesday and immediately exited.

Ferguson, 24, underwent Tommy John surgery as a high school senior in 2014. Roberts said he didn't know if a second surgery would be necessary. Ferguson could decide to try to pitch through the injury.

The left-hander had been one of the Dodgers' best relievers this season. He allowed runs in just four of his 21 appearances and posted 13 strikeouts per nine innings.

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Joc Pederson was placed on the family medical emergency list minutes before first pitch Wednesday. Utilityman Zach McKinstry, who had already traveled to San Diego from Los Angeles, was recalled to take his place on the roster.

The move came five days after Pederson was activated from the paternity list. Players must spend at least three days on the family medical emergency list before returning. Roberts declined to share the reason for Pederson's absence.

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