As there are still a few whispers regarding possible relief additions in the forms of Joe Blanton and Greg Holland, there’s no question the Dodgers have enough bullpen firepower to find success with its existing corp. And while the most critical role could certainly be the eighth-inning bridge to closer Kenley Jansen, 32-year-old righty Chris Hatcher definitely has the tools to fit the bill, however, the question still lingers as to whether he can bring all his skills together consistently for one full season.
Anyone with at least a little knowledge about pitching knows that Hatcher has the ability to succeed. His repertoire features a four-seam fastball, a two-seam cutter, a wicked slider and a nasty splitter. He throws them all with optimal velocity, and his control is generally stable, except for that one pitch that seemingly gets away from him once per inning that the opposition capitalizes on 75% of the time. For a pitcher with that much talent, it almost looks like he’s cursed in some type of eerie, mystical sense — anybody can see that Hatcher can flat out throw the baseball.
Hatcher arrived in Los Angeles along with Enrique Hernandez and Austin Barnes during the winter of 2014 in the deal that saw Dee Gordon, Danny Haren and Miguel Rojas shipped out to Miami. Hatcher was coming off a fairly productive campaign in 2014 when he threw a solid 56 innings over 52 appearances, tallying a 3.38 ERA and a 2.52 FIP with a 9.6 K/9. At the time, it looked like Los Angeles may have found a very useful reliever.
Transitioning to the Dodgers in 2015, Hatcher was under the gun early, having had to assume the role of closer when Kenley Jansen went on the shelf with foot surgery. He would proceed to be a disappointment in the first half, though, putting up a 6.38 earned-run average and a 1.58 WHIP. But after returning from a two-month absence on the disabled list with a strained left oblique, he did an about-face over his final 21 games, recording a 1.37 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP with 24 strikeouts in 19-2/3 innings of work. It was at that moment in time when their Dodgers thought they had finally found their future setup man.
Following a shaky start in 2016, Hatcher finally regrouped when skipper Dave Roberts took the bullpen by the horns and basically reconstructed the roles based on particular pitching and hitting matchups. With Blanton becoming the chief setup guy, Hatcher threw well from the beginning of May through late June, posting a 2.50 ERA in 15 games with 19 strikeouts in 18 innings thrown. In spite of that, misfortune struck again when he was placed on the disabled list with another oblique injury, this time diagnosed as a Grade 3 strain. He was transferred to the 60-day DL two days later, and didn’t pitch again during the 2016 season.
Having been arbitration eligible after his 2016 campaign, Hatcher signed a one-year deal in early December worth $1.25 million for 2017, further reflecting the organization’s belief in his skills and potential, while silencing his naysayers as to whether he was a conceivable DFA candidate.
Moving forward into the 2017 season, Hatcher will have plenty of chances to prove his value as part of the big league bullpen, primarily because he has no options remaining on his contract. While significant injuries have prevented him from completing full seasons over the past two years, one can only wonder what kind of year he can put together when healthy and firing on all cylinders. Indubitably, a very productive year from Hatcher will play huge in the overall scope of the Dodgers’ 2017 bullpen.