Where Should The Dodgers’ Bullpen Go From Here?
Joe Blanton has successfully replaced the erratic Chris Hatcher as setup man in the Dodgers’ bullpen, but can Dave Roberts re-shuffle the rest of the deck?
There were only so many more times Dave Roberts could watch Chris Hatcher implode before demoting him. The Dodgers never expected Joe Blanton to be the shut-down guy who gets the ball to Kenley Jansen in the ninth. Blanton was tabbed primarily for long relief, but was thrust into the setup role when he showed consistency where nobody else could. He has made 10 straight relief appearances without allowing a run; in 11.2 innings of work, he has an ERA of 0.77 with 10 strikeouts, 2 walks, and only 4 hits allowed. Hitters are batting a pathetic .108 against him. So, yeah, Blanton has rightly earned the promotion.
But beyond Blanton’s surprising career resurgence and Jansen’s continued brilliance (10 for 10 in saves with an 0.83 ERA), what options does Roberts have to fix the rest of his ailing bullpen? Righty Louis Coleman is the next best thing Roberts has going in the ‘pen; his stuff is not as electric as that of Pedro Baez, but his consistency is far greater (3.27 ERA vs 4.76). Coleman has yet to give up a home run in his 11 innings, while Baez has surrendered 4 big ones in his 11.1.
Both Baez and Hatcher (3 homers, a grotesque 7.50 ERA, 9 walks, all in just 11 innings) are obviously not getting it done. Even worse, both of them (especially Hatcher) look shell-shocked when they take the mound. Last year, Hatcher admitted to being lost mentally during his horrible stretch at the start of the season. Baez doesn’t talk much, but his body language says it all.
Then there’s J.P. Howell. Ugh. Game 1 of the Tampa Bay series provided him with the perfect low-stress situation to get his confidence back after a string of failures in his 7.2 innings of work. The offense gave him a 10-4 cushion to get 3 outs in the ninth, but he could only come up with 2 outs before getting himself into a bases-loaded jam with 1 run already in. Tellingly, Roberts brought in Jansen even with a 5-run lead and only 1 out needed to secure the win. Technically, Howell did create a “save situation” with his atrocious outing, but going to Jansen for that last out with a 5-run lead wasn’t about letting Jansen notch another save.
The one reliever I have yet to mention is somebody I think Roberts should go to more: lefty Adam Liberatore. In his 6.2 innings of work, nobody has scored a single run off Liberatore. Hitters are batting a meager .100, he’s struck out 6, walked 2, and he has just generally come in and kicked butt. Not something you can say about Howell, so Roberts should make Libertore the main lefty until Howell can prove his worth once again.
More dodgers: Dodgers Roundtable: Best Prospect
It’s still early in the season, and Hatcher, Baez, and Howell can turn things around; however, Roberts is clearly losing trust in these three guys. I would love to think that Blanton, Coleman, and Libertore can continue to successfully play the roles the other guys are being paid to, but it’s hard to picture this happening for more than a short stretch. Meanwhile, down on the farm, top prospects, Julio Urias, and Jose De Leon, both just turned in top-notch performances. Could one of them be called up soon to replace Baez or Hatcher? Apparently, Urias has been mixing in occasional relief appearances as part of his pitching schedule, so who knows? We might find out sooner rather than later.