Saturday, May 9, 2015

With depleted rotation, will the Dodgers' bullpen eventually wear out?

One of the biggest, and best, surprises of the season has been the effective Dodgers' bullpen.  Paco Rodriguez, Juan Nicasio, Joel Peralta, J.P. Howell, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Liberatore all have ERA's at 1.29 or below.  Pedro Baez is at 2.08, and Sergio Santos 3.00.

That's a lot of great stuff, and to think that Kenley Jansen hasn't even pitched this year, makes it even better.

The only problem?  The rotation is beat up, their ace has been human, and one has to wonder how long the 'pen can keep putting up these great numbers.

Clayton Kershaw isn't getting chased early, but has only gotten into the eighth inning once, and that was when he blew a two-run lead against the Brewers on Monday.  He's 1-2 with a 3.72 ERA.  He's certainly getting strikeouts with 51, good for second in the National League. 

What's causing him headaches is when he misses location, he's getting seriously pounded.  His fastball usually tops out at 94 mph with little movement, and that's what caused him to surrender five home runs already.  Clearly, he's not feeling his slider yet, and has been hoping his fastball gets his through the game.  It hasn't quite worked out that way.

With Kershaw scuffling, the bullpen has had to rev it up even more in his games than they've had to in the past.  Normally those are "rest days," meaning only a couple of arms would be required at most.  It's not exactly fair to continually put all that pressure on Kershaw to put up blanks over and over, but he'll be the first to tell you that he needs to pitch better and be the stopper.

Fortunately, Zack Greinke has been a stopper at 5-0 with a 1.56 ERA.  He's won his last five straight starts, and is pitching like a guy who wants to opt out of his deal for more cash... which is exactly what will happen at the end of this season at this rate.  That doesn't mean he won't be a Dodger next year, it just means he's keeping his options open.  Who can blame him?  Not this guy.

Brett Anderson received a gift complete game victory on Friday, picking up the win on a rain shortened, 5 1/2 inning, 2-1 victory over the Rockies.  He's been scoreless in his last two starts, covering 11 innings, and lowering his ERA from 5.49 to 3.52.  We all know the story with him - if he stays healthy, he can be really good.  So far, he's been healthy, and he's settling into his role of #3 starter very well.  Let's hope it stays that way.

The rest of the rotation has been a complete patchwork job, as Brandon McCarthy is done for one calendar year thanks to Tommy John surgery, and Hyun-Jin Ryu has suffered a setback on his comeback from a shoulder injury.  I don't like the sounds of that at all, as I have to seriously question if Ryu will be back anytime soon, if at all.  The Dodgers are being very quiet about it, which doesn't seem good.

All of that leads us back to the bullpen.  Right now, they've tossed 89 innings, which is ninth highest in the NL.  That's not bad at all, and with a 1.92 ERA and .186 BAA, both good for second, they've obviously stepped up and delivered.  I just worry that the innings will go up, and the other numbers will suffer because of it.  That's what rotation injuries can do to a team.

There's a couple of reasons for optimism.  For one, Jansen is rehabbing and on his way back soon.  As good as the bullpen has been, Jansen is clearly the best option to close games.  Maybe Don Mattingly eases him back into that role, but I hope not.  Jansen needs to close right away if he's healthy.  That bumps guys like Garcia and Rodriguez into setup roles, which can be really good.

The other reason is that these are the Dodgers, and you know a trade or two could be only a few days away.  Cole Hamels and Scott Kazmir are two names that come to mind whenever "trade" and "starting pitching" are being tossed around.  Don't be surprised at all if one of those big arms are in Dodger blue before the end of the season.

Andrew Friedman has done a great job in getting fresh arms called up to give Mattingly some new options.  That's been more out of necessity, but it's still worked.  Santos and Liberatore both did not start the year in LA, but when their number got called, have been really good.

The bottom line is that for the bullpen to keep producing at a high level, a couple of things have to happen: Kershaw needs to get deeper into games, and the rotation will need to be bolstered with an addition or two.  I really worry that at this current rate, with Kershaw giving up runs in bunches and the rotation featuring one spot start after another, the arms in the 'pen will start to wear down.  It's only natural if that were to occur.

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