The final series of the regular season in Colorado has been nothing short of action-packed, to say the least. The offense of the Dodgers has once again been showing some signs of waking up in critical situations, and the relief corps has proven that it’s capable of taming one of the hottest offenses on the senior circuit. Yet, among all these exciting twists and turns, there are still a few playoff roster spots up for grabs. One of the vacancies which has seemingly been garnering the most attention among those familiar with the club is the final spot in the Dodgers’ bullpen.
Outside of Kyle Farmer taking the spot of Adrian Gonzalez, the initial projection of the NLDS roster that we put together more than 10 days ago is still holding relatively true to form. In that particular model, though, we had lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu emerging from the bubble to snatch the final bullpen spot. Among those battling with Ryu for a spot on the roster are Ross Stripling, Walker Buehler, Brandon McCarthy and Brock Stewart. Another option, the arm which was outwardly ostracized by the fans and appeared to not have a snowball’s chance in the Sahara, is that of righty setup man Pedro Baez.
However, maintaining the support of his manager Dave Roberts, and most recently being boosted by the encouragement of All-World closer Kenley Jansen, Baez gives the impression of having regained a bit of the confidence that made him an effective setup option for the majority of the season, and still may have a remote shot of being named to the club’s 25-man NLDS roster later next week.
“If we get Petey like who he used to be—he’s still the Petey who he is—if we can get him back to who he is, it’s going to be a plus point for us in the playoffs,” Jansen said at the conclusion of the San Diego series last Wednesday. “Because when Petey is on, it’s a lockdown mode with Petey at the end.”
Whether it was the wrong pitch selection, a fault in his mechanics, or simply a matter of confidence, Baez’s stock seems to be back on the rise, thanks to the support of Roberts, Jansen, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and bullpen coach Josh Bard.
“To me, he’s gotten away from his strengths,” Bard said. “He was fighting a little bit of a delivery thing and it just kind of steamrolls, and you start being hard on yourself. There’s 85 different factors. It could be the end of the season, the playoff roster, arbitration—it could be all of those different things are real. For us to say that they aren’t is foolish. Knowing Petey for who he is, his motivations are genuine. They’re for the team, that’s for sure.”
With a sub-1.50 ERA for the majority of the season, the hard-throwing righty saw that mark balloon to 2.59 towards the beginning of September. Yet, after putting in the extra work with his coaching crew, he has looked surprisingly strong in his last several appearances, and in turn, may have possibly rejoined the bubble group for the final few spots in the playoff bullpen.
Since September 23, Baez has made four appearances, throwing a total of 4-1/3 scoreless innings. He has allowed only four hits and has struck out seven opposing batters, but perhaps most importantly has not allowed a walk. On Saturday evening, he entered the game in the bottom of the eighth frame, striking out the only two batters he faced before giving way to Jansen. And, during this time, his fastball gives the impression of having more life than ever, often hitting the 99 MPH mark.
Even if he doesn’t make the NLDS roster, Baez could theoretically be selected for the NLCS roster, if the Dodgers do indeed advance that far. And despite the shallow perspectives from many of the fans, he’ll certainly be a critical part of the Dodgers’ bullpen picture heading into next season. After all, he’s only 29 years of age and still has plenty of miles on his arm after having been converted to a pitcher back in the 2013 season.
In the meantime, bearing in mind that he’s thrown 2-1/3 innings over the past two days, it’s unlikely he’ll appear in the season finale at Colorado on Sunday. But considering the Dodgers have a full four days off before the NLDS opener on Friday, Roberts may decide to have a look at his entire relief arsenal, especially the arms who are competing for the final few roster spots in the NLDS.
First pitch for the final game of the regular season is slated for 12:10 p.m. Los Angeles time.
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