Suddenly, the Outlook of the Dodgers Bullpen Doesn’t Seem So Gloomy

Sometimes, all it takes is an 11-1 drubbing of another contending club to quickly change a fan’s perspective about the direction of their favorite baseball team. When an offense works according to the way it was specifically designed, it takes a huge amount of pressure off a pitching staff, especially a bullpen which has struggled mightily over the past week. And, with the news that closer Kenley Jansen‘s healing progress has been accelerated, the immediate future of the Dodgers doesn’t seem so dismal after all.

According to Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times, Jansen and skipper Dave Roberts hope the All-Star reliever will be cleared to pitch as soon as Monday.

“I’m miserable right now,” Jansen said on Friday afternoon. “I need to be out there. That’s why my fingers are crossed for Monday. We’ll see. If that happens, that would be great, so I can come back and help us get back in the race, and try to go where we want to go.”

Jansen had been placed on the 10-day disabled list on August 10 with an irregular heartbeat and has been prescribed blood thinners in the meantime to help alleviate the symptoms. He has been throwing light bullpens, though, with the most recent coming before the opener on Friday night in Seattle.

At one point this week, it appeared as if a poorly constructed bullpen would conceivably push the Dodgers out of the divisional race in the NL West. The front office crew of the Dodgers faced heavy scrutiny as it ignored making any significant upgrades prior to the non-waiver trade deadline last month.

Since Jansen’s illness, the Los Angeles relief crew blew leads in seven consecutive games heading into the Mariners series. The Dodgers lost five of those contests and surrendered control of the division to Arizona. During that time, the team was relegated to depend on the services of such unknowns like Zac Rosscup, JT Chargois, Dylan Floro and Erik Goeddel to provide quality relief. Ironically, it was the highly-criticized Pedro Baez who stepped up on Wednesday evening with an impressive appearance to seemingly bring the crew out of its funk.

What’s more, the rehab of hard-throwing righty Josh Fields was escalated to the Triple-A level on Friday night, when he threw a perfect seventh inning for the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Fields is expected to make at least one more appearance for OKC, then will be evaluated in terms of his readiness for the bigs.

With the prospective return of Jansen, coupled with a late-inning presence of Fields, Scott Alexander and Kenta Maeda—so long as he remains in the bullpen—the landscape of the Los Angeles relief corps would not seem so gloomy. Perhaps by not having the pressure of the ninth inning on their shoulders, Alexander and Maeda will slide back to their normal mindsets, allowing them to successfully setup Jansen.

Throw All-Star righty Ross Stripling back into the bullpen mix and the future looks even brighter. Stripling was placed on the 10-day DL on Wednesday with back problems, but the injury does not appear as serious as it sounds.

“I don’t have any bulging discs or anything like that, it’s basically managing symptoms,” Stripling explained this week. “Give it a couple of days, get on some good meds and try to get the inflammation out of there. I’m going to give it through the weekend, since they are going to Seattle, and I’ll stay here.”

The activation of veteran right-hander Daniel Hudson on Friday provides an additional boost to the relief crew.

Of course, one of the biggest enemies of the Dodgers right now is a gritty Arizona Diamondbacks crew, which still leads the division by a full two games. In the same breath, 39 contests still remain on the regular season schedule—plenty of time for Los Angeles to establish momentum and make a playoff push. Furthermore, the Dodgers will host the D-Backs in what’s shaping up to be a huge four-game series beginning on August 30.

 

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Series Preview: Dodgers Head to Seattle to Face Mariners

After an eventful week where the Dodgers only managed to get two wins in series against the Rockies and the Giants, the Boys in Blue take their stagnant offense and beleaguered bullpen to Seattle to play the red-hot Mariners.

Those series were book-ended by wins, with a demoralizing five-game stretch in between where the bullpen blew every single game. And to add insult to injury, it was a different relief pitcher every night. It took extra innings and a three inning scoreless outing by Pedro Baez for the Dodgers to finally get the squad another win.

While the bullpen has been quite disappointing, the starting pitching has not. Hyun-Jin Ryu came off the DL Wednesday and pitched six shutout innings. Clayton Kershaw went eight innings allowing only one run. The starting pitching has kept them right in the game, but the offense just hasn’t been able to get it going, while the bullpen can’t hold the tie or lead. A bad combo.

While it took 12 innings to secure the victory on Wednesday, it may just be the catalyst they need. The Dodgers have been hitting the ball hard, but right at people and not necessarily with people on base. And when runners are on base, they cannot get them in. There have been more stealing of bases this month than previously—perhaps a focus on small ball and getting away from power hitting has led to the lack of offensive production. That tide has to turn at some point.

And so the Dodgers hope to finally put all aspects of the game together in Seattle, against a Mariners team that is 70-52, 4-1/2 games out of first, and 2-1/2 out of a Wild Card spot in a tough AL West division. Los Angeles will avoid seeing their best starter, James Paxton. The Dodgers may be without Yasiel Puig for a game or two, if his suspension for fighting with the Giants’ Nick Hundley is upheld. Puig is appealing, though, so that suspension may be dealt with at a later date.

The Seattle offense is lead by shortstop Jean Segura, slashing .314/.343/.437/.781 with 27 doubles. Nelson Cruz leads the team with 30 home runs. Robinson Cano has just returned from his 80-game suspension for using performance enhancers.

In the first game of the series Friday nights, Walker Buehler will oppose Wade LeBlanc. Buehler is red-hot since coming back from his DL stint, posting a 1.40 ERA over his last three starts. He went seven scoreless in Colorado last weekend. LeBlanc is 7-2 on the season with a 3.80 ERA. The lefty is 6-1 in 12 games at home this season, but overall is 1-7 with a 4.18 ERA in 11 career games against the Dodgers.

Saturday’s game will feature Rich Hill and Erasmo Ramirez. Hill has not given up more than two earned runs in his last five starts. Ramírez is replacing former starter Felix Hernandez in the starting rotation. He had been previously on the DL for three months with a right teres major strain. In his first start back against Houston, he went five scoreless innings, giving up three hits. He is the first right hander the Dodgers will have seen in almost a week.

Sunday’s matinee will be Kershaw going up against Marco Gonzales. Kersh is coming off his best start of the season and has a 3.46 ERA in two career starts against the Mariners. Gonzales, another lefty, is 12-8 on the season with 125 strikeouts. He is 0-3 in his last three outings with a 7.94 ERA.

The Dodgers need to build some momentum soon, as they are now two full games out of first and two 2-1/2 games back of the Wild Card lead. They can’t wait too long or they may find themselves too far back to make up ground in the end.

 

 

Dodgers Bullpen: A Look at 3 Emerging Relief Pitchers on the Farm

Considering the recent struggles of the Dodgers bullpen, there’s bound to be a number of moves on the horizon, even before rosters expand at the beginning of September. Besides the collapse of every available arm in the current crew, there’s been plenty of other news, most specifically the back injury to righty Ross Stripling and yet another setback for hard-throwing right-hander Josh Fields.

The minor league system has its fair share of relievers; however, it’s another case of having a bunch of arms who are somewhere around the mediocre level or below. We all remember Edward Paredes, who was designated for assignment earlier in the year, but was able to clear waivers and eventually return back to Triple-A Oklahoma City. There’s also Adam Liberatore, who has been fighting injuries all season and will likely be unable to join the big league squad down the stretch. Brian Schlitter, the 32-year-old righty journeyman, has 16 saves to lead OKC. And then there’s guys like Shea Spitzbarth, Josh Sborz and Joe Broussard, who may conceivably have enough talent to throw in the majors, yet they have been victimized by the hitter-friendly confines of the Pacific Coast League this season to some extent or another.

In light of everything said, we thought it would be interesting to look at the bullpen from a completely different perspective, this time considering three emerging arms who may have success in the bigs sometime down the road. Because they’re not anywhere near the 40-man roster, these players probably won’t see major league action this season, but they are pitchers who will have plenty of upside moving forward.

Nobody has been on more of an extreme roller coaster during their minor league career than flamethrower Yadier Alvarez. At one point, the Cuban righty was cemented in the organizational Top 3 prospects rankings, but injuries and lack of command eventually pushed him off the radar. The beginning of 2017 was no different; however, once he returned from the disabled list this summer, the scouting directors finally decided to let him throw exclusively out of the bullpen, a move which all of us here at TBPC have been anticipating for a very long time.

Currently on the Double-A Tulsa roster, Alvarez recorded his first save of the year last Saturday, tossing four full innings at San Antonio, where he struck out six opposing batters and allowed just two hits. Of course, it’s just one outing, but there’s still a ton of talent there and his arm has so much action that it’s plenty to be excited about, especially when considering the future direction of the big league relief corps.  As far as his repertoire goes, Alvarez features a four-seamer that varies in velocity, but it has been known to touch the 100 MPH mark on occasion. His slider is by far his best breaking pitch, often being clocked around 20 MPH slower than his fastest heater. He was never able to master a change or a curveball completely, but in theory, he won’t need them if he’s strictly throwing out of the bullpen.

27-year-old righty Stetson Allie is another interesting reliever in the system, having split time as both an outfielder and a pitcher over the course of his eight-year minor league career. The Pirates selected him in the second round of the 2010 draft primarily for his pitching skills, but eventually abandoned him after his 2016 campaign, seeing that he never rose above the Double-A level. The Dodgers appeared to be interested in him as a corner outfielder and signed him as a free agent later that winter. He looked promising in 2016 when he hit 16 long balls and 63 RBI, but after a dismal 2017 when he slashed just .216/.293/.341, the Dodgers decided to let him try his hand at pitching once again.

Allie began his 2018 campaign on the bump in High-A Rancho, made a quick 11-appearance stop at Tulsa, and is now opening eyes at OKC. Through his first five outings for Oklahoma City, he has posted an impressive 1.69 ERA while allowing a very stingy .133 BAA. Like Alvarez, Allie can exceed the 100 MPH mark on the gun, which makes the management crew of the Dodgers excited about his future, despite his age.

Righty Marshall Kasowski doesn’t throw quite as hard as Alvarez or Allie, but he has a special gift of having the ability to miss bats. We’ve talked about the 23-year-old Texas native plenty this year already, as his ridiculous 15.71 K/9 is the chief reason for all the exposure. The righty started the season at Low-A Great Lakes, dominated in the hitter-friendly Cal League and now is one of the principle relievers at Tulsa.

So far for the drillers, astonishingly, Kasowski hasn’t allowed a single hit or a run in any of his five appearances or 6-1/3 innings pitched. For the entirety of 2018, across three levels, he has a 1.68 ERA in 37 games, with a phenomenal 103 punchouts over 59 innings, while allowing an extremely impressive .117 BAA. Kazowski was drafted by the Dodgers in the 13th round of the 2017 MLB draft out of West Texas A&M, not long after being named the 2017 Lone Star Conference Co-Male Athlete of the Year.

In terms of his repertoire, Kasowski’s best offering is undoubtedly his heater, which sits in the low-to-mid nineties, sometimes topping out as high as 96 MPH. But it’s his unorthodox delivery which caught the eye of the major league scouts. He throws from a slot right next to his ear, which creates a very deceptive motion that leads to him missing plenty of bats. He still has some control issues, but that’s to be expected, considering he’s just in his first full year in the system.

(Mandatory photo credit: Jeremy Davis/MiLB.com)

 

Dodgers Worst Enemy: An Anemic Offense or a Second-Rate Bullpen?

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(Los Angeles Times photo)

Believe it or not, some people saw a bit of logic when the Dodgers ignored their suspect bullpen while trying to upgrade their offense at the non-waiver trade deadline last month. After all, there were some internal moving pieces which would improve the relief corps, and the addition of two of the best available offensive weapons would seemingly allow the squad to slug its way into the postseason.

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Dodgers Weekly Minor League Report: Verdugo, Lux, Alvarez, Rincon & More

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(Photo Credit: Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

While the big league Dodgers are busy trying to hammer out their latest bullpen issues, let’s take a look at what went down on the farm last week.

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There’s Still No Reason for Dodgers to Panic, but It’s Getting Close

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To say this season has been frustrating is an understatement. Every time the Dodgers seem to get things going, some other piece of bad news hits the fan. It has been said that during any series at Coors Field, the best you can hope for is to get in, get out and hopefully everyone escape healthy. It didn’t quite happen that way this time.

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Dodgers Roster: More Thoughts on an Otherwise Shoddy Bullpen

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(Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

It’s all that everyone’s been talking about—with good reason. What many followers of the Dodgers have considered to be the team’s biggest weakness all year long is finally proving to be true. It took an illness from the team’s All-Star closer to prove, but what folks are now learning is that Kenley Jansen was the single cog which was seemingly holding the entire Los Angeles relief corps together.

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Dodgers Offense Will Need to Carry Depleted Pitching Staff

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The Dodgers are facing a tough road to make it back to the World Series. With the loss of Kenley Jansen, a starting rotation not always looking as sharp as they could be (see Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda), and very close divisional race, the next few months are going to be interesting indeed.

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Dodgers’ Bullpen Faces Challenges Without Jansen

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(Mandatory Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers‘ pitching staff has been hit with a lot of injuries this year, but none as serious as the latest. All-Star closer Kenley Jansen is expected to miss about a month due to an irregular heartbeat.

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Dodgers Activate Ross Stripling, Option Pat Venditte to Oklahoma City

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(Mandatory Credit: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

The Dodgers on Thursday afternoon reinstated right-handed pitcher Ross Stripling from the 10-day disabled list and optioned switch-handed pitcher Pat Venditte to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

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