The Dodgers have had a rocky, up and down April. Despite falling under .500, they’ve ended strong on a four-game winning streak, including a sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies to end the month. They are clearly not firing on all cylinders, but the bullpen once again has been a big reason why they’ve stayed afloat.
Last year, the Dodgers had one of the best bullpens in the National League. The only problem was they were severely over-worked. This year, however, the starting pitchers have done a better job of going deeper into games. That’s not to say they’ve been doing so consistently, but a better job. Applause goes to Brandon McCarthy for being the most consistent starter behind Clayton Kershaw. Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu are looking better following slow starts, and Rich Hill is close to returning.
Due to the starters going a bit deeper into games, Dave Roberts won’t have to worry too much about over-working his bullpen, which is 11th in innings pitched so far. The Dodgers also rank within the top ten in ERA, strikeouts, and opponent’s batting average. The bullpen has also demonstrated versatility, with no defined roles other than Kenley Jansen at the end.
One of the best closers in baseball is continuing his excellent work. He is reviving the “game over” confidence Dodger fans once had when Eric Gagne’s “Welcome to the Jungle” played upon his entrance. Now, when “California Love” plays, we all know it’s pretty much locked up. Jansen leads the bullpen in strikeouts, averaging just below two per inning. What’s more impressive, not to jinx it, he is yet to walk a batter.
Dayton started off strong but then went down with an injury. Since his return, he’s been solid but gave up his first runs on Sunday. In eight innings he’s only allowed four hits, holding the second-lowest WHIP in the pen. His command can slip from him occasionally. He’s a suitable option for Roberts as the first pitcher in the lock down process or can be used in tight situations against lefties. Initially, it looked like he would be paired with Sergio Romo to form a partnership in the setup role, but it seems plans have changed with Romo’s struggles.
The former San Francisco Giant started off great, but after an implosion in a 13-5 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, he’s been struggling. He’s taken days off in speculation of injury, but there might be something more to it. The tricky Frisbee thrower is having a hard time finding the strike zone, tied for the team lead in walks. However, when his slider does locate the strike zone, it’s hanging more than it should.
The Venezuelan left-hander has been very consistent so far this year. After a solid 2013 with the Atlanta Braves, Avilán’s struggled to find the same consistency. So far into 2017, he’s given up two runs in eight and a third. Roberts’ pattern appears to be to use Avilán in late-game situations, a reason why he leads the team in holds. His change up is effective in getting both lefties and righties out, but his fastball command could use some tuning for perfection.
The Dodgers bullpen didn’t feel the same without Baez in the beginning of the season. The hard-throwing Dominican was a staple of Roberts’ bullpen core last year. He can get it up there fast, but it takes a while for him to do so. He’s worked on speeding up his time between pitches, but it looks like the story is still the same. All or nothing. He’s the like the pitching version of Joc Pederson. Strike out, walk, or home run. That last one bit the Dodgers when he blew a save against the Giants, but overall it’s good to have him back.
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If you take Chris Hatcher and Sergio Romo’s ERA out, the Dodgers have a sub 2 ERA. That’s harsh to say, but Hatcher is the piece that doesn’t fit. I see eye to eye with Dave Roberts on a lot of things, but I can’t figure out why he prefers Hatcher to Josh Fields. The hard-throwing right-hander is just one-third of an innings shy of Ross Stripling’s 14 innings to lead the team. However, he’s given up six runs on 14 hits, striking out 15.
As mentioned before, Fields and Hatcher are somewhat similar in their games. The difference is that Fields has been very effective in his seven innings of work, despite inconsistent roster alterations. The 31-year-old Georgian possesses a K/9 innings ratio similar to Kenley Jansen’s, the only two that high. Perhaps Roberts sees something I don’t, but Fields should be a permanent part of the bullpen in my opinion.
The “long man” has been one of the pleasant surprises from the bullpen. If a starter fails to go five innings, which is more often than it should be, Stripling is the first arm called. He’s able to bridge the gap between the starting pitcher to the big guns later on. Stripling has been overall consistent, pitching a minimum of one inning. His only bad outings were in the back-to-back implosion losses to Arizona. If the starters continue to struggle to go deeper into games, he could be an instrumental factor.
Wood deserves to be a starter, but he’s just so much better when he doesn’t face a lineup a second time. He was lights out of the bullpen in the beginning, but due to injuries to the rotation, he’s had to make emergency starts. They weren’t good. Wood could redefine his career as either a long man or a specialist in the bullpen.
Breaking it down arm by arm, or looking at it overall, the bullpen looks strong. There have been a few slip ups, but no bullpen is absolutely perfect. Even the Dodgers’ staff and hitting haven’t been as bad as they seem. The record is deceiving because it just looks like a case of everything not clicking. Once the Dodgers find a rhythm, everything won’t be put under a microscope. Hopefully, the recent sweep of the Phillies can ignite a run in the coming month. The Dodgers have split the first two games against the rival Giants. But it looks like the team, and the bullpen, are beginning to click on all cylinders.