Paco Rodriguez Earned a Spot in the Dodgers Bullpen


He’s a lefty who can get outs. The Dodgers are almost always short a southpaw out of the pen most years. Remember when Hong-Chih Kuo was the only left-hander out of the Dodgers bullpen for awhile? I loved Kuo, but that’ll be saved for a different kind of post. This one is about Paco. Paco should be on the Dodgers Opening Day roster, and he earned that spot last season. Even after fizzling out and not even making it on the Dodgers NLCS roster in 2013 after serving up runs to Jason Heyward in the NLDS, I have a feeling that Paco will be able to dominate once again out of the bullpen as one of only two Dodger left-handers.

Don Mattingly should use Paco a little less next season to keep him fresh. Photo: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

J.P. Howell has been signed to a considerable 2-year $11.25 million deal, and Howell earned his spot by also pitching extremely effectively in 2013 out of relief as evident from his 2.03 ERA over 62 innings pitched. Howell went on to pitch in 6 combined innings in the NLDS and NLCS for the Dodgers last season, and he allowed 1 run on 5 hits with 6 strikeouts over the course of the two series. Howell and Paco will be two vital pitchers in Don Mattingly‘s arsenal which to choose from. Having two lefties at your disposal out of the bullpen gives the relief corp more depth. With an extra lefty arm available, Mattingly will use Paco as a specialist who has the the ability to throw lefties off balance in a one-on-one matchup, a strategy often advantageous in late innings.

Don Mattingly will need to utilize Paco more efficiently, and his overworking of the rookie last season really added  and may have even caused Paco’s decline last year. Paco only pitched in 11 games for the Dodgers in 2012, but in 2013 he quickly became Mattingly’s go-to guy after Paco flashed his true abilities on the mound during end of 2012 and start to 2013. Paco pitched in 76 games for the Dodgers in 2013, and it was evident from Paco’s sudden drop-off, that he is more effective when not overused. Paco still struck out 63 batters in 54 1/3 innings pitched. His 2.32 ERA reflects what a solid season Paco had, a truly Rookie of the Year status season in my opinion.

While I also really like Chris Withrow, if I had to choose between the two it would be Paco. I wrote about the reasons for my admiration of Paco, and I feel that 2014 may even be better for the 22-year old as he learns to pace himself over the season and feels more comfortable in the Majors. After all, less than two years ago Paco was still pitching for his college team. Paco was rushed onto the scene, and he became the first player to reach the Majors out of his 2012 draft class. Once a Gator, he had to quickly transition to a Dodger.

There still is a place on this bullpen for Chris Withrow. Yet by signing the veteran Jamey Wright and then the former closer Chris Perez, it seems like Chris Withrow may start the season off in Albuquerque. Not to say that we won’t see the impressive right-hander at some point during the season, because we will. The reality of the situation is that while Chris Withrow has good stuff and he could pitch out of the long-relief role if needed which is very useful over the course of the long season, Paco’s utility as a left-hander and his memorable performance in 2013 earned him a bullpen spot this new season.

Although Chris Withrow has only pitched in 26 games for the Dodgers since debuting with the Dodgers on June 12, 2013, he has been quite impressive. He struck out 43 and only walked 13 over 34 2/3 innings in his first season. Once in awhile you could get the shaky Withrow, but overall he was much better than expected especially after languishing in AA for three seasons. Unfortunately Withrow will have to take a back seat to Brandon League and Chris Perez since the Dodgers are looking for them to have comeback years.

Paco really disappointed in the NLDS, but he had been on the decline for a little while before that. He basically just sputtered out, but that ending should totally overshadow his excellent pitching for most of the season. He kept left-handed hitters to a .131 batting average and struck out 44 lefties while he was at it. Right-handers didn’t fare much better against Paco as they collected a .202 batting average against the southpaw.

Paco’s delivery keeps hitters guessing when he hides the ball behind his head before slinging it over the plate. Last season, aside

Feb 13, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly (8) works with pitchers in the bullpen during camp at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

from Jansen, Paco was showing everyone why he was a former closer at the University of Florida when he came into high leverage situations and got the outs even with inherited runners. Perhaps all of his experience pitching in the College World Series with the Gators helped him succeed in high stakes situational pitching.

Not many people were talking about Paco Rodriguez as he quietly had one of the better rookie seasons we have seen by a young Dodger pitcher.

"“He was one of the best lefties in baseball last year. He got lefties and righties out. Without Paco last year, we’re in trouble,” said Mattingly. “He just ran out of steam. He was used in a lot of appearances. To me, he’s right back on track. There’s no reason not to be confident. The guy’s got weapons.”"

Paul Maholm could displace Paco should Josh Beckett be slotting in the fifth rotation spot. Maholm has a guaranteed contract, so if he doesn’t start the Dodgers may put him in the bullpen.

Spring Training will answer a lot of these roster questions as weeks go on, but the Dodgers should not waste a spot in the bullpen to Maholm while they have Paco and Withrow available. Paco deserves to be on the Opening Day roster, and the Dodgers cannot let his left-handed talents go to waste.