Dodgers Bullpen: Who’s the Best 8th-Inning Relief Option?

While most pieces of the bullpen have shown flashes of brilliance during the young 2017 campaign, Friday evening’s implosion against the Diamondbacks left many fans of the Dodgers wondering if the relief corps has the structural integrity to hold up over the long haul, or if the front office crew will feel the need to go shopping for a few upgrades before the trade deadline arrives in July.

Nobody’s anywhere near a panic point just yet, though. Fans will remember the beginning of the 2016 season, when the relief corps was nothing short of a nightmare. Besides Kenley Jansen, relievers Chris Hatcher and Pedro Baez were believed to be the best late-inning options, as the Dodgers’ bullpen struggled for nearly a month to establish some sort of identity. Yet once the management crew was able to develop critical player data regarding matchups, righty Joe Blanton quickly settled into the chief setup role, and along with the emergence of Louis Coleman and Adam Liberatore, the Dodgers’ crew eventually proved to be among the best in baseball.

Needless to say, there were some ups and downs. Coleman and Liberatore suffered significant injuries, perhaps from over-usage, and were never the same upon returning from the disabled list. Hatcher went on the shelf in July with a strained oblique and never came back at all. On the plus side, Ross Stripling evolved into a very dependable long man. Grant Dayton emerged from Triple-A Oklahoma City and showed tremendous value. Jesse Chavez and Josh Fields, who were both acquired right before the trade deadline, also made key contributions down the stretch run of the regular season. Josh Ravin returned from a half-year suspension to flaunt his triple-digit heater, showing fans that the Dodgers have a surprising amount of depth in the pen heading into 2017.

As it stands now, gone are Blanton, Coleman and Chavez. Dayton and Ravin are sitting on the disabled list struggling with injuries, while Liberatore is throwing at OKC trying to make a case for his inclusion on the big league roster. Alex Wood, who appeared to have some much-needed firepower for the relief crew, has already been shuffled back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation. And Hatcher has been used sparingly so far, appearing mainly in low-leverage situations or when the club is in need of a multiple-inning, mop-up type of role.

Fans also believed that the signing of righty reliever Sergio Romo would help bridge the gap to Jansen, assuming that the 34-year-old still had the tools to be an effective eighth-inning setup option, which he certainly is not. As it would appear that Romo would be phenomenal in a ROOGY (Righty One-Out GuY) role, his effectiveness against left-handed batters is often questioned.

Over the course of his 10-year career versus right-handed hitters, Romo has a stellar .188/.230/.313 slash line against, while surrendering a .241/.306/.366 line to lefty batters. Because of injuries, 2016 saw his vitals elevate against hitters from both sides of the dish, but over 70 games during his age-32 season in 2015, he tallied an amazing .170/.181/.286 line against righties, while surrendering whopping .371/.443/.486 averages against left-handed hitters. There’s no doubt that there’s a definite role on the club for Romo moving forward, but it may not be in the capacity that many fans perceived at the beginning of the campaign.

Baez certainly has the potential to be an eighth-inning savior, yet there’s still several aspects of his overall game that need polished before he shines in that particular role. Stripling and Dayton have turned many heads during their short stints in the bigs, but the sample sizes of both are still relatively small to be considered formidable setup options for Jansen.

Looking ahead, while an upgrade would indeed provide the club with more constructive alternatives down the road, there may be just enough relief depth in the system to get by until the trade deadline, barring any additional epidemic of injuries. And as the 2017 calendar has yet to turn to May, there’s still plenty of time for skipper Dave Roberts and his staff to evaluate his relievers, and to calculate more formulas while figuring which pitchers fill each specific relief role.

(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)

 

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Dodgers Head to Arizona with High Expectations

The Dodgers head into Arizona this weekend with a record of 8-8, a little sub-par for what most Dodger fans were hoping. Los Angeles currently is in third place in the division, behind both the Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies. With a sweep of Arizona, the Dodgers would move ahead of them, and possibly be back on top of the NL West.

Injuries continue to plague the Dodgers. Newly acquired second baseman Logan Forsythe is the most recent Dodger to hit the DL. He was placed on the 10-day disabled list, but is expected to be out at least two weeks. Forsythe fractured his big right toe when he was hit by a pitch in Tuesday’s game. Manager Dave Roberts called the fracture “a little hairline thing,” and is hopeful that it will not take as long as four weeks, which is about the average recovery time for a broken toe. When he returns will have a lot to do with his pain tolerance, and he will wear cushioning in his shoe for protection when he comes back to the squad. Also joining Forsythe on the DL with an injured toe is newly recalled utility man Rob Segedin. He strained a tendon in his big right toe on a check swing Monday, his first game after being called up. He will be reevaluated every day to check on the sprain’s progression.

Chris Taylor is making the most of his time back in the big leagues. He was called up Wednesday to replace Forsythe on the roster, and all he did was go 2-for-3 at the plate with two doubles against a left-handed pitcher.

“It’s nice to get off on a good foot, and play well in that first game, and take some of the pressure off,” Taylor said after the game. “Now I can just go out there and play.”

Many fans thought that Taylor should have been with the team earlier, after having a torrid spring trading where he hit .357/.483/.500. Asked about when he thought he’d be back with the big team Taylor said, “You know, I knew in the past this team has made a lot of moves, I knew there was a chance, but I just tried not to think about it. I just focused on what I could control, went down there and just try to continue to play well.”

Enrique Hernandez, who made the Opening Day roster over Taylor, also hit well against Colorado’s left-handed offerings on Wednesday. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI double and a triple in his first start at third base this season. Even the struggling Scott Van Slyke got in on the action, hitting his first home run of the year. The Dodgers need all these players to produce against lefties, plus more, if they’re going to break the narrative that they cannot hit opposing southpaws.

One player in particular has a theory about how to improve against said left-handed pitching. Catcher Yasmani Grandal believes that in the long run, other teams lining up all these lefties in their respective rotations will only benefit the Dodgers.

“It’s early in the season. You get us going, it’s going to come back to bite them,” Grandal told reporters. “I think it’s great. I really do. I’m glad that they’re doing it. I take it as a challenge. Keep on doing it. It’s only going to make us better.”

Three of the seven starting pitchers the Dodgers will see on the upcoming road trip are left-handed, starting with Diamondbacks pitcher Robbie Ray on Saturday.

Clayton Kershaw, who doesn’t usually take much of a stance on things, had some harsh words for Rockies’ pitcher Tyler Anderson after the game on Wednesday. Anderson walked from his bullpen session to his dugout when Kershaw was already on the mound, prepared to pitch to Charlie Blackmon.

“That was one of the more disrespectful things I’ve been a part of in a game,” Kershaw said after the game. “I really didn’t appreciate that. The game starts at 7:10, it started at 7:10 here for a really long time. Just go around, or finish earlier. That wasn’t appreciated.”

It did appear to rattle Kershaw a little bit as, as he allowed the first three hitters to reach base. Only one scored, and Kershaw settled down, eventually proceeding to strike out 10 and notch the win.

Some awesome Clayton Kershaw stats: He has the best ERA at Dodger Stadium since 1913 — 1.98. He is 87-0 when receiving four or more runs of support. His jersey is the No. 3 selling jersey in baseball, the only one in the top five who does not play for the Chicago Cubs.

The Dodgers are headed out on a seven-game road trip, starting with a three-game series in Arizona on Friday night. After that, the squad heads off to San Francisco for the first meeting with the Giants this year.

(FOLLOW ANDY ON TWITTER: @DODGERGIRLINPA)

 

Dodgers Prospect Watch: Yadier Alvarez Finally Beginning to Stir

Now that the regular season is quickly approaching its third week, we’re finding out a bit more on a daily basis about why a handful of players in the Dodgers‘ system mysteriously disappeared from their normal roster statuses during the early phases of the 2017 campaign.

Righty phenom Walker Buehler was held back at extended spring training for a little over a week, non-roster invite Josh Sborz spent a little over two weeks in Glendale, and prized prospect Yadier Alvarez hung around Camelback Ranch for almost three weeks before finally making his debut against the Lancaster JetHawks on Monday.

And if the more dedicated fans dig hard enough, they’ll find that there were plenty more beginning their respective seasons in extended spring training, perhaps a ploy by management to utilize a new type of strategy in the development of some of the younger players. All this is happening while 20-year-old southpaw Julio Urias is still taking his turns in the rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma City — something that fans didn’t expect to see until early May, after Urias was able to rest his arm in hopes of saving his fuel for the 2017 postseason.

Rumors were circulating in early spring whispering that Alvarez showed up to camp a bit out of shape and was sent to Glendale to tuneup for a brief time. Regardless, he did what was expected of him early, and finally made it to the bump to start a game for Rancho Cucamonga in the Cal League this week.

In the end, Alvarez’s debut was not pretty at all. He didn’t strikeout a single batter, which is extremely uncharacteristic of the 21-year-old righty. He ended up throwing 65 pitches over 2-1/3 innings, surrendering seven runs on nine hits, with two walks and two wild pitches in the Quakes’ 9-5 loss to Lancaster.

According to J.P. Hoornstra of the Southern California News Group, Alvarez’s fastball sat in the 93-96 MPH range in the first frame, and drifted down to the 90-92 range by the beginning of the third inning. Last season, Alvarez was clocked in the triple digits on more than one occasion. Yet while his initial performance of the 2017 season was indeed a bit gloomy, all signs point to the young Cuban regaining his form quickly during his next few turns in the Rancho rotation.

For the fans of the Dodgers who may be unfamiliar with Alvarez, he’s currently ranked as the second best prospect in the organization by MLB Pipeline. Between Rookie League and Low-A Great Lakes last season, he posted a 4-3 record with a 2.12 ERA and a 12.3 K/9 over 59-1/3 innings of work.

When we initially took a glance at Alvarez in December of 2015, he didn’t have much of a track record in terms of organized baseball, and it remained somewhat of a mystery the exact type of skill set he would bring along with him to the farm. Now that he’s beginning to progress through the lower levels of the minors, reports from many of the scouts have been outstanding.

As far as his repertoire, Alvarez features a four-seamer that varies in velocity in the 94-100 MPH range. His slider is by far his best breaking pitch, often being clocked around 20 MPH slower than his fastest heater. His change and curveball are still in the developmental stages, but were already beginning to show promise with the Loons and in the Arizona League.

People who follow Alvarez closely believe that he could make an impact as a reliever early in his career, yet many of the pundits see his best potential as a starter, so long as he continues to sharpen his command. Some scouts have even uttered a conceivable ceiling of a No. 2 starting pitcher.

Having just turned 20-years-old in March, he’s still in need of some time to fill out his lanky 6’3″ frame, yet if he stays on course and consistently improves his pitching control, Alvarez may zip through the High-A level this year and conceivably see limited time with Double-A Tulsa by season’s end.

(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)

 

Dodgers Send Forsythe & Segedin to Disabled List, Recall Taylor & Eibner

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(Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

The Dodgers on Wednesday placed infielder Logan Forsythe and infielder/outfielder Rob Segedin on the 10-day disabled list and recalled outfielder Brett Eibner and infielder/outfielder Chris Taylor from Triple-A Oklahoma City. Forsythe is suffering complications from a fractured toe, while Segedin was diagnosed with a strain in his right foot.

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Dodgers Roster: A Quick Look at the Organizational Bullpen Depth

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(Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

When long man Alex Wood was recently shifted back into the starting rotation and righty Josh Fields was recalled to the big league bullpen, a popular topic of conversation among fans of the Dodgers was the discussion surrounding the organizational depth of relief pitchers.

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Dodgers Send Grant Dayton to Disabled List, Recall Josh Fields

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(Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday placed left-handed pitcher Grant Dayton on the 10-day disabled list with a left intercostal muscle strain in the rib area and recalled right-handed pitcher Josh Fields from Triple-A Oklahoma City.

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Dodgers Roster: Scott Van Slyke, Rob Segedin Vying for Same Utility Spot

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(Mandatory Credit: Jon SooHoo Los Angeles Dodgers)

In the greater scope of things, there’s probably not enough room on the Dodgers‘ 25-man roster for both Scott Van Slyke and Rob Segedin, especially if the majority of the club’s key contributors are 100% healthy. However, with lefty killer Franklin Gutierrez still nursing a tender hamstring and veteran southpaw Rich Hill back on the shelf for an undetermined amount of time, the team turned to Segedin on Monday with hopes of creating a jolt of offensive energy against left-handed pitching.

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More Roster Shuffling Ahead for Dodgers

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The more things change, the more they stay the same. And for some fans of the Dodgers, that’s not a good thing. It would seem that having a team built to win the NL West once again and go deep into the playoffs would be a really good thing, but that’s not enough. Fans are hungry for a World Series win, and are tired of this really good team not making it.

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Dodgers Injury News: Andre Ethier, Scott Kazmir, Franklin Gutierrez & More

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(Mandatory Credit: LM Otero/Associated Press)

While there are still a few lingering issues that have affected the general makeup of the big league 25-man roster, injuries have not had a significant impact on the overall performance of the Dodgers so far in 2017. Veteran lefty Rich Hill is prepared to be reinstated from the 10-day disabled list to face the Diamondbacks on Sunday afternoon, and with a little bit of good fortune, one or two other players may soon follow in his footsteps.

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How Will Dodgers Create a Roster Spot for Rich Hill?

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(Mandatory Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The good news is that Rich Hill‘s blister issues weren’t as serious as some initially perceived, as the veteran lefty is set to take the mound in the Dodgers‘ third contest of a four-game set against the Diamondbacks on Sunday afternoon.

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