About the only two good things happening lately in the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen are the continued dominance of righty reliever Evan Phillips and the progression of right-hander Yency Almonte in his recovery from elbow issues.
Over 59 appearances this year, Phillips has logged a 1.24 ERA, but if you’re a non-believer in ERA for relievers like me, the 28-year-old Maryland native has put up an impressive 2.09 FIP and an astounding 0.741 WHIP.
The run Phillips surrendered against the Padres three weeks ago was the first run he gave up since July 21 against the Giants. Although skipper Dave Roberts has used Phillips lately in the highest leverage situations, we might see a shift to the closer role soon since Roberts confirmed that Craig Kimbrel is no longer the team’s primary closer.
The problem with using Phillips exclusively in the ninth inning is that there is a lack of quality relievers to set him up. Blake Treinen will not be ready for the beginning of the postseason, and although there’s some hope he could return for the later rounds, it doesn’t make much sense to bank on it at this point.
Despite the skepticism, Los Angeles still ranks second in the majors with a 3.01 team bullpen ERA, thanks primarily to the success of Phillips. Alex Vesia has been decent with a 2.26 ERA and a 2.22 FIP, and there’s some hope that Brusdar Graterol might return to being a higher leverage guy after being activated from his second stint on the injury list. The same applies for righty Tommy Kahnle.
Many thought that Caleb Ferguson could be an X-factor in the postseason, but he continues to fluctuate up and down, as made evident by his poor outing on Friday night in relief against the Cardinals.
Almonte could be the boost the Dodgers need. After throwing a perfect inning in his first rehab appearance for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Tuesday, the righty came back on Friday and threw another perfect inning with one strikeout against El Paso. There’s definitely no rush to bring him back, as the first-round bye allows the team to take its time with increasing his load.
Although Tony Gonsolin might not have enough time to stretch out adequately as a starter, he could conceivably return as a reliever. Gonsolin joined David Price on Thursday in a sim game, with both pitchers throwing to hitters like Hanser Alberto, Gavin Lux, Chris Taylor and Miguel Vargas in live action.
This is definitely good news, although it’s still not safe to bank on an effective return for either pitcher at this point.
A lot of the relief success this postseason could depend on the returns of some key arms like Almonte, Treinen, Price and the re-emergence of Kahnle. While that list certainly represents a lot of “ifs,” the bullpen might return to its dominance if those players can produce.