After all the dust settled on the active roster before the series opener against the Twins on Monday evening, the Dodgers had a whopping 10 arms available in the bullpen, yet only three available replacements off the bench. Thank goodness for more heroics from the mighty Cody Bellinger, because if the game would have somehow wiggled into extra innings, Los Angeles may have sent some relief pitchers to the dish to hit.
The game had yet another storybook ending, though, this time with southpaw reliever Edward Paredes notching his first career win in his MLB debut. Bellinger’s long ball in the bottom of the eighth inning was his 28th of the season. Incredibly, there’s not a single player in National League history with more home runs through 80 games played.
As far as the bench pieces went, skipper Dave Roberts decided to pinch-hit Chase Utley for Ryu in the fifth, and use Enrique Hernandez as a pinch-hitter for Josh Fields in the seventh frame. Austin Barnes was not used at all, and would have been the final resort.
But while everything worked out nicely in the squad’s 6-4 victory, coupled with having 10 arms conveniently available for relief duty, one would think such a plan will eventually backfire. Eight or nine bullpen arms often handcuffs a manager as far as substitution strategy goes, and having three bats off the bench isn’t gonna cut it during tight contests down the stretch.
What the Dodgers could really use right now is another left-handed hitting outfield option, at least until Andre Ethier is ready to return — if indeed there will be such a time — or until first baseman Adrian Gonzalez rejoins the squad, in essence giving Bellinger the opportunity to roam around the outfield once again. Ethier is targeting a return at the beginning of September, while Gonzalez may join the squad much sooner — he’s expected to begin a minor league rehab assignment later in the week.
Yet in the meantime, there may be nobody better suited to help out the current state of the Los Angeles outfield than 21-year-old prospect Alex Verdugo. After a single and two walks on Sunday in Oklahoma City‘s series finale against Iowa, Verdugo extended his on-base streak to 40 consecutive games, tying him for the season lead in all of Triple-A. For the year, he’s slashing a productive .332/.407/.444 with 27 extra-base hits through 87 games. He can capably handle all three outfield spots with ease, and would be comfortable slotting in just about anywhere in the lineup. Plus, he adds the element of speed to a squad who would be ranked right around average in terms of quickness.
With lofty expectations for rookie Andrew Toles, Ethier and Gonzo heading into the regular season, nobody would have expected the need for another left-handed bat with autumn quickly approaching. To help out the deficient outfield, the Dodgers tried to utilize a trio of righty hitters — Trayce Thompson, Brett Eibner and Scott Van Slyke — on several occasions already, without much luck. Thompson was the last to be demoted on Monday, hitting a mere .116, after going 5-for-43 in 19 big league games.
If Verdugo’s knack for reaching base translates successfully at the major league level, it would certainly be a yet another infusion to the club’s high-powered offense. The problem with purchasing his contract, however, is twofold. First, Verdugo would need to play every day, considering he needs as many reps as possible at his current level of experience. Second, he’s still not on the team’s 40-man roster. The most recent vacancy, created when Sergio Romo was let go last week, was filled by Paredes on Monday.
Because Verdugo can provide cover in left, right or center, with careful planning and scheduled days off for the regulars, it wouldn’t be difficult to get him into the daily lineup, at least until Gonzalez is ready to be activated. And as far as creating a spot on the 40-man goes, would it really be worth designating a player to get a few weeks of production from Verdugo? Perhaps the most important question lies with the expectations of Ethier, if and when he returns.
Of course, the landscape of both the 25-man and 40-man rosters can change at the blink of an eye, especially with the trade deadline quickly approaching, and the Dodgers anticipated to be active participants. And while Verdugo appears to be high on the wish list of other club’s potential returns, in the end, he could very well be more valuable to Los Angeles wearing Dodger Blue for the big league squad right now.
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