Dodgers Bullpen: What Lies Ahead for Pedro Baez?

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Needless to say, the journey through the 2017 season for righty reliever Pedro Baez was a rocky one. Near the halfway point of the campaign, his ERA was almost microscopic, yet when the Dodgers‘ roster was selected for the NLCS against the Cubs, his name was omitted. In early September, he was frequently booed by fans at Dodger Stadium, as skipper Dave Roberts took to the press a number of times to defend him.

Yet, whether fans are looking forward to it or not, the 29-year-old Dominican Republic native will be around for the 2018 campaign. And he’ll probably continue to pitch in high-leverage situations, hoping that his plus-fastball carries him back to success.

The good thing is that Baez still has plenty of miles on his arm. A former third baseman early in his career, he wasn’t converted to a pitcher until 2013 as a member of the Chattanooga Lookouts. And he didn’t make his big league debut until May of 2014.

Last season, Baez threw a total of 64 innings with a 2.95 ERA and a 4.44 FIP with 64 strikeouts and 29 walks over 64 appearances. Through August 31, the righty tallied an impressive 1.79 ERA through 55-1/3 innings of work, however, from September 2 until the end of the regular season, he logged only 8-2/3 innings over 10 games, posting a whopping 10.38 ERA and a.341 batting average against in the process.

Many pundits deduced that he suffered from dead-arm syndrome or simple fatigue towards the end of the year, as he was first on the club with 66 regular season appearances. Yet seemingly, his velocity never went away—even during his roughest outings, his heater was still topping out at 97-98 MPH. The movement on his pitches was missing late in the year, but most of all, it wasn’t difficult to see that he was completely lacking confidence.

In what was perhaps his worst outing of the season on September 4 against the Diamondbacks at home, he surrendered four earned runs on four hits—two of them long balls—without even recording an out.

“I’ve been having trouble with the command of my fastball,” said Baez in the midst of his late-season woes. “I did shy away from my secondary pitches. It hasn’t been a good stretch. I’ve never been through a stretch like this, but I’m going to continue to work hard to get out of it.”

He was included on the roster against the Diamondbacks in the NLDS, but Roberts never found a comfortable spot to use him. Subsequently, he was excluded from both the NLCS and World Series rosters.

His breaking pitch arsenal is still developing, but his fastball certainly has the potential to carry him to the next level. Whether or not he can regain the confidence he shown in the early stages of 2017 remains to be seen.

With the chances of Los Angeles bringing back Brandon Morrow and/or Tony Watson appearing to be relatively slim, Baez will have the opportunity to start 2018 with a clean slate, and have a shot to vie for a late-inning relief role, at least towards the beginning of the season.

In the greater scope of things, the way he begins his 2018 campaign may be a key indicator on how the remainder of his big league career unwinds.

(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)

 

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