The Dodgers bullpen was great in 2016 after being one of the team’s weaknesses in 2015. The Dodgers bolstered their bullpen for 2017 by signing Sergio Romo as their primary right-handed setup man to replace Joe Blanton.
Outside of bringing Romo aboard the Dodgers’ bullpen will be filled with familiar faces, many of those players battling for the final two bullpen spots. There is a good chance the team will have seven relievers in the bullpen which is the amount they usually carry.
Last season they carried eight and even nine relievers at various points of the season to compensate for injuries and starting pitchers not throwing enough innings. The locks for the bullpen barring injuries are Kenley Jansen, Sergio Romo, Pedro Baez, Grant Dayton, and Adam Liberatore.
While Pedro Baez is currently injured, he is supposed to be back relatively soon and should have enough time to get ready for the season. That would fill up five of the seven spots in the bullpen and leave two spots open for other challengers to claim. Let’s take a look at the candidates for the final two bullpen spots.
Josh Fields- Fields was acquired from the Astros at the trade deadline last season in an under the radar move. After a rough half-season in Houston, he went on to put up a 2.79 ERA for the Dodgers in over nineteen innings. Josh Fields has started off to a terrible start in spring training and has an ERA of 20.25. Due to him having an available option the Dodgers will most likely option him to AAA to begin the season.
Chris Hatcher– Hatcher is now entering his third season with the Dodgers and the story seems to be the same for him every season. He pitches well for a brief period of time, then starts to pitch bad and gets put on the disabled list. Last season it was an oblique injury that shelved Hatcher. This spring Hatcher has struggled to the tune of a 13.50 ERA. His last outing on Sunday he struck out two in one inning of work and while he has struggled this spring he still has four strikeouts in five innings and throws very hard. Hatcher is out of options so he will most likely be making the bullpen to begin the season. It’s either have him up with the Dodgers or put him on waivers.
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Luis Avilan- Avilan was supposed to be the Dodgers lefty specialist last season. Instead, he began 2016 in the minors and Adam Liberatore emerged as the new lefty neutralizer. He is out of options so there is a chance the Dodgers could choose to carry three lefty relievers since Grant Dayton is effective against both right-handed hitters and lefties. Working in Avilan’s favor is that he has been one of the few effective Dodger relievers so far this spring. He’s pitching to a 2.08 ERA with six strikeouts in four-plus innings. He did finish the 2016 season strong, holding hitters to a .176 average. He could be a dark horse to make the bullpen.
Josh Ravin- Ravin has had quite the adventure over the last year. He was injured in an automobile accident prior to last season and then got suspended for taking a performance enhancing substance. He made it back to the big leagues in August and finished the regular season on the team. He pitched in only nine innings but struck out a whopping thirteen batters, allowed only two hits, and a microscopic .065 batting average. Ravin does have one option left so the Dodgers could use that to their advantage and store him in AAA for later use.
Ross Stripling- Stripling will forever be known for almost no-hitting the Giants in his first ever major league start before being pulled by Dave Roberts while the no-hitter was still intact. Entering the 2017 season there is no room for Stripling in the rotation. But he could find himself in the bullpen as a long reliever since every team needs at last one reliever that could go multiple innings. Stripling finished last season as a reliever and pitched quite well in relief throwing twenty-four innings and holding hitters to a .218 average with a 2.22 ERA. Not all starting pitchers can make the transition to the bullpen but Stripling showed he can pitch in relief and be effective.
While these are the main contenders for the final two bullpen spots there are two other guys that could sneak their way into a bullpen spot in Brandon Morrow and Alex Wood. Wood is in competition one of the final rotation spots, though. It doesn’t look like Kazmir will be ready for the start of the season so Wood will most likely end up in the rotation. Morrow was a non-roster invitee on a minor league deal but he hasn’t done well and is likely ticketed for what is going to be a stacked AAA Oklahoma City team.
The Dodgers will most likely hand the last two bullpen spots to Ross Stripling and Chris Hatcher. Stripling can get ground ball outs to get out of jams and also pitch multiple innings. So he’s a great Jeff Weaver-like swingman for the Dodgers.
Hatcher is out of options so the Dodgers will most likely let him crack the opening day roster for his final shot as a Dodger. He does still throw very hard and has shown flashes of brilliance but needs to cut down his walks and prove to be more consistent. Should he falter then he will be designated for assignment and his time as a Dodger will come to an end.
I would pick Avilan over Hatcher as I am done seeing Hatcher turn the late innings into a dumpster fire but maybe he realizes this is his last shot with the Dodgers and has a strong season. Regardless of who the final two are, I’m feeling really confident about our bullpen this season.