Dodger Thoughts: Bullpen


Kirby Lee/US PresswireKenley Jansen has allowed two runs since June, while stranding all nine runners he has inherited.
Keeping this as concise as possible in the interest of time:
  • Kenley Jansen has struck out 25 of his past 40 batters.
  • Kenley Jansen has gotten 25 of his past 31 outs via the strikeout.
  • Kenley Jansen is so overwhelming right now, a Giants blog, Bay City Ball, rhapsodized about him.
  • Kenley Jansen has a WHIP of 0.671 since coming off the disabled list in June, allowing eight singles, a double and 10 walks in 28 1/3 innings.
  • Kenley Jansen has allowed a .098 batting average, .192 on-base percentage and .109 slugging percentage in that time.
  • Kenley Jansen is the Dodgers' most dominant reliever, the reliever you'd most trust to get an out when you need it.

It is for these reasons that I hope the Dodgers do not make Kenley Jansen a closer next season.

Tuesday's victory illustrated why. If Jansen were the closer, Dodger manager Don Mattingly would have held him back until the ninth inning, rather than having him come put out the fire when Clayton Kershaw gave up a home run and two walks in the eighth inning.

It's far better that Jansen be available at the game's biggest crisis point, whatever inning that comes.

My hope is that if Mattingly feels he must have a regular closer in 2012, he is seduced by Guerra's 19 saves in 20 opportunities and keeps him in that slot. Nothing against Guerra, who has been one of the season's most pleasant surprises, but he is not a smokejumper like Jansen, who looks more capable of putting out the toughest fires than any other Dodger reliever.

* * *
  • With Colorado's loss to San Diego today, the Dodgers' clinched no worse than a third-place finish in the National League West.
  • Matt Kemp could be the first NL player to finish in the top two in home runs and steals since Hank Aaron in 1963, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • From the Dodger press notes: "Since Aug. 1, James Loney leads the National League with a .359 batting average (51-for-142) and ranks among the league leaders in doubles (15, T-1st), on-base percentage (.425, 4th) and slugging percentage (.627, 2nd)."
  • Kenny Shulsen of Lasorda's Lair predicted Jerry Sands' home run off Tim Lincecum on Tuesday — a home run, I believe that will be remembered when debating Sands' potential this offseason.
  • Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers' final regular season game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, notes Keith Thursby at the Daily Mirror, which also features a Jim Murray column commemorating the event. Sandy Koufax struck out 15 in a 13-inning complete-game victory. If Baseball-Reference.com is accurate, Koufax threw 213 pitches in the game.

Morry Gash/APThe Dodgers could see right through Marco Estrada of Milwaukee today.

At the risk of taking Clayton Kershaw for granted, let’s bypass his latest sterling effort — eight shutout innings in the Dodgers’ 5-1 victory over Milwaukee today — and make our periodic foray into a Bullpen Usage 101. Or maybe it should just be Bullpen Usage 1.

Of course, you know the drill by now, the age-old vexation, the pure folly that is refusing to use your top relievers in a tie game in order to preserve them for a save opportunity that might never come. That’s what happened Tuesday, when the Dodgers used the 2011 version of Hong-Chih Kuo and the 21st-century version of Mike MacDougal in a 1-1 ballgame in the bottom of the ninth rather than the Javy Guerra and his scoreless streak of 11 1/3 innings.

[Aside: Kuo was taken out immediately after walking the only batter he faced, Prince Fielder, with Don Mattingly being quoted as saying that he was monitoring Kuo’s usage in an attempt to build his confidence. Now, read that sentence and tell me if you see the logic flaw there.]

Anyway, the Dodgers gave up the run they couldn’t afford to give up Tuesday and lost. Then, when they could afford to give up four runs and still win today, they brought in Guerra and his 1.57 ERA.

For weeks, Mattingly refused to identify Guerra as his closer, but now he’s become so rigid with Guerra that he doesn’t see fit to use him any differently than Jim Tracy used Eric Gagne in his Dodger heyday. And that rigidity itself is ironic, because it was Mattingly’s flexibility in using Guerra as his ninth-inning stopper — ahead of a veteran with saves and All-Star credit like MacDougal — that gave birth to Guerrarama.

That Guerra allowed a run today doesn't change what the best odds were for the Dodgers.

Someday, managers will stop trying to explain why they think a lead in the 10th is more pressure-filled than a tie game in the ninth, and actually just do the right thing. Mattingly should seize the opportunity to be that man. To paraphrase "Say Anything": "The world is full of guys. Be a manager."

* * *

OK, I can’t ignore Kershaw completely.

Kershaw threw only 104 pitches in his eight innings. In the sixth, he was nursing the 1-0 lead that Rod Barajas’ 11th home run of the year provided when the Brewers put runners on first and third with one out, and MVP candidates Ryan Braun and Fielder due up.

The 23-year-old retired each batter on the first pitch to get out of the inning. To do so that economically was something of a fluke, but it sure wasn’t surprising, and it’s that kind of confidence that Kershaw is inspiring that is only adding to his legend.

Kershaw is now at a league-leading 199 strikeouts for the season and five wins away from 20, the latter as cool as it is meaningless. Twenty-three years old.

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireJavy Guerra
All praise is due to Dodger reliever Javy Guerra, who had never pitched above Double-A before 2011 but has posted a standout rookie season.

The 25-year-old has a 1.99 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings against 31 baserunners and has yet to blow a save opportunity. His perceived calm on the mound — perhaps marked by how he pitched out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam of his own making July 8 against San Diego — has led many to wonder if the Dodgers have found their replacement at closer for Jonathan Broxton, who surely will not be back in a Dodger uniform in 2012, if at all.

On one level, I take issue with the question itself — the goal is always simply to find the best relievers you can and not worry about their roles. Part of the beauty of what happened with Guerra this year is how he wasn't assigned the closer job, but just began pitching in the ninth inning because he happened to be the guy who was available. You shouldn't doubt, for example, that Kenley Jansen, who has been absolutely unhittable since coming off the disabled list, could close games.

But as far as whether Guerra is the real deal, I'm of two minds. He certainly showed his potential after striking out 8.8 batters per nine innings in his 65 games with Chattanooga from 2009-11. But he has also always allowed a fair number of baserunners: his career WHIP in Double-A is nearly 1.5. That's not all that good. Jansen's WHIP at Chattanooga, by comparison, was below 1.1. It's reasonable to suggest that Guerra might be pitching over his head.

People are talking about Guerra's precocious performance, but we've done that about many other young relievers who made strong debuts only to falter a year later. People are talking about Guerra's fearlessness and attack mentality on the mound ... just like they did for John Ely. Seriously, there were experts that not only thought Ely was the real deal a year ago, they were crediting him for showing other Dodgers how to pitch. A year later, he's a pitcher of last resort.

Guerra is on a particular roll of late, having retired his past 10 batters over four appearances - striking out five and earning saves in each game. It's wonderful. I'm just not ready to declare him a natural closer, partly because I'm skeptical about the use of such a definition, partly because we still haven't seen enough of him to know how effective he'll be over the long haul.

We shouldn't be surprised if Guerra hits a rough patch. We also shouldn't be alarmed. The guy hasn't even faced 100 batters yet in his career - I'd recommend being patiently optimistic. I'm just saying, it really is still early.

In any case, the Dodgers do appear to have the potential for a nice, mostly home-grown bullpen brewing for 2012, with Guerra, Jansen, Scott Elbert and minor-leaguers including Josh Lindblom, Steven Ames, Shawn Tolleson and Cole St. Clair in the mix. That's seven names right there before you even talk about veteran holdovers like Matt Guerrier, Blake Hawksworth and Mike MacDougal. Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo might be gone next season because of performance, salary and injury concerns, in much the same manner that Russell Martin departed last winter, but at least in this area, Los Angeles looks ready to move on without them.

Update: More on Guerra here from Jason Grey of ESPN.com.

A low down dirty shame

June, 18, 2011
6/18/11
4:49
PM PT
One thing I noticed about the sixth-inning-gone-wrong in the Dodgers' 7-3 loss to Houston on Friday was how the hitters who did the most damage to Ted Lilly were diving for pitches.

Carlos Lee went down and away to loop a 200-foot single to drive in the run that broke a 1-1 tie. The first-pitch breaking ball was not in the strike zone. Then, with the bases loaded, Clint Barmes hit a 1-0 slider over the plate but down at his knees, slicing a two-run double just inside the right-field line about 250 feet down.

The topper came on a two out, 3-2 fastball to Jason Bourgeois – first seen here in my 2002 article on Single-A ball in Savannah, right around the time I started Dodger Thoughts – that was over the center of the plate, but all Bourgeois did with that was hit a grounder up the middle that Aaron Miles flagged, only to miss on the throw to second, allowing two runs to score.

In the meantime, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com can tell you about the Dodgers' lack-of-patience woes at the plate.

Not the Dodgers' night, or their week, or their month, or their year.

* * *

Kenley Jansen, one of three injured Dodger relievers coming off the disabled list in the short term, returns to the active roster today. The trio of returnees will create some tough cuts in the Dodger bullpen, starting with Josh Lindblom, who is being sent to Double-A for the time being.

Note where Lindblom ranks on the following lists ...

Opponents' OPS in 2011 for recently active Dodger relievers
.624 Josh Lindblom
.629 Matt Guerrier
.637 Blake Hawksworth
.686 Scott Elbert
.749 Mike MacDougal
.777 Javy Guerra
.996 Ramon Troncoso

Opponents' OPS in past 28 days for recently active Dodger relievers
.588 Blake Hawksworth
.624 Josh Lindblom
.686 Matt Guerrier
.840 Scott Elbert
.851 Mike MacDougal
.863 Ramon Troncoso
.868 Javy Guerra

Icon SMI/US PresswireRubby De La Rosa and Scott Elbert brought relief from the minors.
The kids have come to the rescue of the Dodger bullpen, and not nearly enough has been said about it.

Jonathan Broxton went on the disabled list May 6, followed within 10 days by Hong-Chih Kuo, Vicente Padilla and Blake Hawksworth. To replace them, the Dodgers brought up Kenley Jansen (who had temporarily gone down to Chattanooga), Scott Elbert, Javy Guerra and Ramon Troncoso.

Another week later, the Dodgers dispatched mop-up man Lance Cormier and replaced him with Rubby De La Rosa. Then in the past week, Jansen went on the disabled list and was replaced by Josh Lindblom, who made his major-league debut with an inning in the finale of the Colorado series Wednesday.

Of the replacements, Troncoso was the veteran with all of 177 1/3 career innings. The combined career experience of Jansen, Elbert, Guerra, De La Rosa and Lindblom was 39 2/3 innings. Their average age: 23 1/2. Think about it – more than half of the bullpen handed over to runts.

Here's how they've done, including the 3-0 Dodger loss to Colorado, in which the bullpen followed Jon Garland's six-inning, three-run start with shutout ball:
  • Jansen: 7 2/3 innings, 13 baserunners, four earned runs (4.69 ERA), 13 strikeouts, 0 of 5 inherited runners scored
  • Troncoso: six innings, six baserunners, no earned runs (0.00 ERA), two strikeouts, 2 of 5 inherited runners scored
  • Guerra: seven innings, nine baserunners, two earned runs (2.57 ERA), five strikeouts, 0 of 0 inherited runners scored
  • De La Rosa: five innings, four baserunners, one earned run (1.80 ERA), five strikeouts, 0 of 0 inherited runners scored
  • Elbert: 4 2/3 innings, six baserunners, no earned runs (0.00 ERA), seven strikeouts, 1 of 6 inherited runners scored
  • Lindblom: one inning, two baserunners, no earned runs (0.00 ERA), no strikeouts, 0 of 0 inherited runners scored
Total: 31 1/3 innings, 40 baserunners, seven earned runs, 32 strikeouts, 2.01 ERA, 3 of 16 inherited runners scored

That's remarkable, especially considering we can assume that we can possibly attribute three of the seven runs allowed to the shoulder inflammation that sent Jansen to the disabled list.

The news that Padilla is expected to return to active duty Friday will, barring injury, start pushing the runts back to the minor leagues, but each has made the case to stay with the big club. Considered a weakness less than a month ago, the Dodger bullpen will in less than 48 hours have eight effective relievers to choose from, with more to come as Broxton, Kuo, Hawksworth and Jansen get back on their feet.

The other noteworthy thing is that with all the injuries, Dodger manager Don Mattingly has basically been forced to throw the idea of a designated closer out the window, instead bringing in pitchers simply based on the situation rather than their title or status. Unshackled from a pecking order, the Dodger kids haven't suffered – they've thrived. Jansen, Guerra and De La Rosa have all finished close games, while Elbert and now even Lindblom have pitched in situations where giving up a single run could be a killer. De La Rosa, whose destiny remains starting pitcher, could be a circa-1992 Pedro Martinez-like smokejumper, giving you a couple innings at a time as long as there's sufficient rest in between.

Message to Mattingly: Do yourself a favor. As the veterans return to the pen, don't get caught up in who your closer is. Just keep doing what you're doing. Manage according to the situation, not according to resume.

Vicente Padilla is heading back to the disabled list with a balky forearm, meaning that Ramon Troncoso will be called up and perhaps get a chance to work on that 20.25 ERA. With Padilla, Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Blake Hawksworth out, more than half the Dodgers' regularly scheduled bullpen is on the DL. That's brutal.

Harry How/Getty ImagesAaron Miles and the Dodgers will try to get back on their feet today

The first part of the headline is the most important: The Dodgers get Hong-Chih Kuo back after a minor-league rehab appearance Friday (his third) in which he allowed no runs or walks and struck out two. But the more curious aspect is the second part, in which the Dodgers optioned reliever Kenley Jansen to Triple-A rather than cut loose back-of-the-bullpen reliever Lance Cormier. (Update: The Dodgers later issued a correction saying that Jansen has gone down to Double-A Chattanooga.)

Jansen has had two certifiably terrible outings, one April 2, the other April 19. But in has past three games, covering 4 2/3 innings, Jansen has allowed no hits, walked two and struck out nine. That makes Jansen the Dodgers' most effective reliever over the past week.

If this small sample size were all that Jansen had going for him, that'd be one thing, but the two bad outings in April are much more of an aberration in the Jansen oeuvre than what he's done recently. Jansen's career numbers remain strong: 2.90 ERA, 49 baserunners vs. 63 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com writes that the Dodgers want Jansen to develop a secondary pitch, and that the Dodgers value Cormier's role as a mop-up man, which is as damned with faint praise as you get. So what this boils down to is the Dodgers breaking more eggs in their bullpen, in the hopes that they'll bake a better cake in the long term. It's not the end of the world, but Jansen will be missed.

As long as Cormier's sticking around, can I suggest again that the Dodgers use the right-handed Cormier more against left-handed batters, a group he continues to have the most success against?

* * *
Making more front-page drive-in news is Jonathan Broxton. An excerpt follows, but be sure to read the full story on Broxton's status from Tony Jackson at ESPNLosAngeles.com:
Jonathan Broxton was told by Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly on Tuesday that he is still the team's closer despite widespread media reports that the team had decided to go with a closer-by-committee approach in the wake of Broxton's blown save on Monday night against the Florida Marlins.

Mattingly saw one of those media reports, on the MLB Network, while working out on Tuesday morning and immediately decided to meet with Broxton to reassure him that the job was still his. That closed-door meeting, which also included pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, took place in the visiting clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the Dodgers played the Marlins. The Marlins scored three runs off Broxton after two were out and nobody was on base in the ninth inning on Monday night to beat the Dodgers 5-4.

"I'm the closer right now, so I just have to go out there and continue to throw," Broxton said after the meeting. "I just have to turn the page. That is the big thing about closing or doing anything, setting up, relieving. You have to turn the page. ... [Mattingly] said he liked what he has been seeing and that I'm throwing the ball good. I just have to get back to that attack mode, especially with two outs."

Those media reports stemmed from comments Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti made during his weekly radio interview on Tuesday morning with KABC's Peter Tilden. Although Colletti never used the term "closer-by-committee," he did mention the names of at least two other pitchers -- Hong-Chih Kuo, who is on the disabled list but expected to return as early as Friday, and Vicente Padilla, who came off the disabled list on Friday and has since had one strong outing and one shaky one -- as possible closer candidates.

"I can't help but be concerned," Colletti said when Tilden asked about Broxton. "I'm one of those people who are pretty much concerned about everything anyway. I am concerned about him. Hopefully, we will get Kuo back Friday, and Padilla has been back for a couple of games. Hopefully, we can give Donnie three choices or so at the end of a game and let him make up his mind by matchup or whatever until Broxton can get his confidence back and get settled."

Contacted by ESPNLosAngeles.com, Colletti downplayed the implications of what he had told Tilden earlier in the day.

"I just said when we get Kuo back and Padilla back to 100 percent, it's going to give Donnie some options, depending upon matchups and the previous day's usage, things like that," Colletti said. "But that doesn't mean Broxton isn't the closer."

Both Mattingly and Honeycutt said Broxton wasn't available to close on Tuesday night against the Marlins, but only because he had pitched each of the previous two games. ...

Also, Jackson reports that Frank McCourt is meeting in New York on Thursday with MLB execs — but not commissioner Bud Selig.

Finally, Xavier Paul was claimed on waivers by Pittsburgh, where he'll be a teammate of Brandon Wood, recently claimed from the Angels, and former Dodger James McDonald.
As I feared when he entered the game as a relief catcher in the seventh inning, Dioner Navarro couldn't close out the three-inning save.

Here's what happened in the final inning:

1) With a 4-3 lead, Jonathan Broxton is within one strike of a perfect ninth and a save.
2) Broxton walks Emilio Bonifacio.
3) Broxton gives up a single to pinch-hitter Hanley Ramirez to put the tying run at third.
4) Scott Cousins up. A called strike, then a slow roller. Jamey Carroll charges, sticks down his glove and comes up completely empty. Bonifacio scores the tying run.
5) Cousins takes second base on defensive indifference.
6) Chris Coughlan, who homered twice off Jon Garland, is walked intentionally.
7) Omar Infante, who bailed Vicente Padilla out of the eighth inning by getting thrown out by Matt Kemp at third base, lines a catchable but hard-hit shot past Jerry Sands for a game-winning single. Dodgers lose to Florida, 5-4.


Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJonathan Broxton


And that's really what the Broxton slide has been about - a loss of dominance (since mid-2010), punctuated by recurrences of really bad timing.

When Padilla gave up an RBI single to Gaby Sanchez the inning before to cut the Dodgers' lead to one run, I commented, "The way that the Dodger bullpen has been this season, how does anyone have any anger left by the time Broxton gets into a game?" Of course, I know the answer.

I think if 1) Cousins had delivered a hit instead of what should have been a game-ending ground out, tonight might have marked the end of Broxton's run as a Dodger closer if 2) there were any alternative doing better. But there isn't.

There's no way around the fact that the Dodger bullpen is underperforming as a unit, and all fans can do is wait for someone to get it together, or look for Ned Colletti to make a desperation move (approved by his new overlord, profiled here by Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com) that somehow makes a difference. Broxton is the last bit of air out of the leaky balloon that is the relief crew.

For the visitors, it was a grind-it-out game virtually the whole way. The Dodgers fell behind 2-1 on the two Coughlan homers, but came back thanks to Rod Barajas reaching first base after striking out on a wild pitch, Ivan De Jesus getting his second hit of the game (and third of his career), Jon Garland laying down a sacrifice bunt, Aaron Miles driving in a run with a groundout and then Carroll, looking like a hero, delivering an RBI single for a 3-2 lead.

The Dodgers' fourth run came from its most downtrodden hitter, James Loney, pushing a single to center past a drawn-in infield.

It was that close to a night of well-earned celebration for the Dodgers, who saw Sands get three hits and Andre Ethier break baseball's all-time April hitting streak record with a first-inning single that extended his skein to 22 games. But for the second time in three games, the bullpen couldn't finish.

Shelly Castellano/Icon SMIHong-Chih Kuo recovered after throwing four straight balls to start his 2011 season.
The Dodger bullpen could be a strength of the team, but it might be a while before you can tell.

Dodger relievers have a 7.15 ERA, and that's going into a trip to Colorado. They have allowed 22 baserunners (14 hits, eight walks) in 11 1/3 innings. On the bright side, they've struck out 11.

Jonathan Broxton has gotten attention for allowing two home runs and a single in his first three innings/outings (no, we're not talking about belly buttons here), but two other noteworthy relievers, Kenley Jansen and Hong-Chih Kuo, have been erratic. Kuo has walked two of the eight batters he has faced and allowed a double, while Jansen, of course, got pummeled in his only appearance: one inning, four hits, two walks, four runs.

Matt Guerrier has faced seven batters and allowed two walks and a hit, Mike MacDougal has given up a single to go with his strikeout, Lance Cormier allowed two runs in three innings of mop-up relief, and Blake Hawksworth loaded the bases before escaping his one inning of work score-free.

The common thread you'll notice here is that a little damage can go a long way toward ruining your early season stats, a problem that the hitting environment in Colorado figures to exacerbate. The good news for the relievers is that after the two games in Denver, a sextet of games in San Diego and San Francisco follow.

In the end, the Dodgers still figure to have one of the best bullpens in the National League, according to Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus. Also good news, at least for 24 players on the team: Vicente Padilla could pitch in to help out sooner than later.

For now, Dodger relievers can knock on wood: They haven't given up any leads yet this season.

* * *
  • Howard Cole of Baseball Savvy has gotten a nice gig blogging about the Dodgers for the Register. In this post, he questions whether the Dodgers are going to activate Jon Garland too soon.
  • Line of the day goes to Geoff Young at Baseball Prospectus, writing about Tony Gwynn Jr.: "In Gwynn, meanwhile, the Dodgers have found that which has eluded them for nearly 30 years: a suitable replacement for Cecil Espy."
Tags:

Bullpen

Kim Klement/US PresswireIn the past three seasons, Lance Cormier has allowed a sub-.700 OPS against left-handed batters, including 26 extra-base hits in 486 plate appearances.
Outside of the left-field conundrum, the Dodgers' biggest question mark for Spring Training might be how they will address the task of getting left-handed batters out with their almost completely right-handed bullpen. No one wants to see Hong-Chih Kuo relegated to facing only lefties, and the only other left-handed thrower on the 40-man roster is the uncertain Scott Elbert.

Three non-roster invitees to major-league camp are left-handed: 39-year-old Ron Mahay, achy-hamstringed Dana Eveland (whose career 5.74 ERA will apparently be sidelined for weeks after Thursday's injury) and Wilkin De La Rosa, who has never pitched about Double-A. After that, you start dipping down into the minors for developing players like James Adkins.

With Ronald Belisario's absence seemingly opening up a roster spot, Mahay would seem to be the default candidate. He had a .520 OPS allowed against lefties last season. But the previous two seasons, his OPS allowed against lefties was above .700 — which isn't terrible, but isn't exactly the kind of authoritative performance you're looking for when you really want someone to come in and get that guy out.

I got to wondering if there were any righties among the Dodger relievers who were reliable against lefties. Here's a chart of the bullpen candidates' OPS allowed against lefties over the past three seasons in the majors:

2010 PA/2010 OPS 2009 PA/2009 OPS 2008 PA/2008 OPS
Belisario86.793 122.720   
Broxton123.626 148.414 126.800
Colon5.650 94.713   
Cormier162.718 180.671 144.667
Elbert42.000 40.699 141.000
Eveland59.802 60.999 170.646
Guerrier102.649 120.525 126.801
Hawksworth185.886 76.724   
Jansen51.586      
Kuo69.271 40.524 98.557
Link16.962      
MacDougal391.353 124.760 24.858
Mahay68.520 111.743 110.721
Monasterios188.709      
Padilla166.590 352.837 385.944
Redding   282.860 402.808
Schlichting39.465 9.905   
Troncoso99.823 157.751 84.707
Villarreal      68.862

Some observations:
  • The Dodgers have a few righties who seem consistently effective against their opposite numbers: Jonathan Broxton, Matt Guerrier and, based on a small sample size, Kenley Jansen.
  • Oh, and another guy who probably isn't on your radar ... late signee Lance Cormier.
  • Based on only his one season, Carlos Monasterios offers an intriguing first impression — though looking at the chart, you can see how much these numbers can fluctuate. Look at what happened to Ramon Troncoso, for example, or moving in the other direction, Vicente Padilla.
  • For extreme small-sample candidates, there's Roman Colon and Travis Schlichting. Consider at your own risk.

If the Dodgers decide that Kuo, Broxton, Guerrier, Jansen and Padilla are all effective against lefties, they could decide to go without a second left-handed pitcher — especially if they also think Cormier is worth a roster slot. It might still be Mahay's spot to lose or Scott Elbert's spot to win, but Cormier might be this year's guy you least expected.
The Dodgers announced today that they have sent Ramon Troncoso back to Albuquerque:
Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Ramon Troncoso was optioned to Albuquerque today, creating an opening for fellow reliever Ronald Belisario to return to the active roster from the restricted list Tuesday.

Troncoso pitched 2 1/3 shutout innings over two games since being recalled from Triple A on Aug. 3, when Jeff Weaver was placed on the disabled list. Troncoso -- like Belisario, a mainstay of the Dodgers' bullpen in 2009 -- has a 4.85 ERA in 39 innings this season.

The Dodgers, who were off Monday, did not immediately confirm that Belisario would be activated before Tuesday's game in Philadelphia. However, Dodger manager Joe Torre said over the weekend that Belisario, who made rehabilitation appearances for Class-A Inland Empire on Saturday and Sunday, was close to a return.

Belisario has not pitched for the Dodgers since July 5. He was placed on MLB's restricted list effective two days later, for reasons still not publicly disclosed. Belisario, who resumed workouts two weeks ago, has a 3.79 ERA in 35 2/3 innings for the Dodgers.

Belisario's 2010 season also began on the restricted list, after visa problems delayed his spring training arrival. Belisario had a 2.04 ERA in 70 2/3 innings last season.

What's interesting to me is that the Dodger bullpen suddenly seems so deep that it could part with Troncoso even though he had not been scored upon since his return — and that's with Weaver still sidelined. The offense, certainly, remains a different story.

* * *

After Brandon Morrow threw a 17-strikeout one-hitter Sunday, Stat of the Day made a list of all the pitchers under age 26 since 1920 who had thrown one-hitters while striking out at least 10, within their first 160 career games.

Two Dodgers are on this quirky list. Sandy Koufax is one. If you can guess the other without looking, I'll be really impressed. Name the non-Koufax Dodger under the age of 26 who struck out at least 10 batters in a one-hitter. It came in the pitcher's 22nd career game.
The Dodgers announced they have designated Justin Miller for assignment and recalled the tantalizing Kenley Jansen.

Jansen has struck out 50 in 27 innings since his promotion to AA Chattanooga this season. He was converted from catcher to pitcher in 2009, when he caught 34 games and pitched in 12.

Miller had a 4.44 ERA with 33 baserunners allowed in 24 1/3 innings and 30 strikeouts. He allowed 12 runs and seven inherited runs in his last 18 innings.

Al Behrman/APRonald Belisario
Remember all the indignation when Ronald Belisario put himself on the layaway plan when it came to Spring Training this year? Plenty of people wanted to wash their hands of the delayed arrival.

Given the current state of the Dodger middle relief, I'm not sure too many people want to cast off Belisario for his sins today.

The Dodger bullpen has shown some unexpected weakness, though circumstances aren't dire. Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo are brilliant short relievers, while Belisario and Jeff Weaver are satisfactory set-up men.

Carlos Monasterios will probably take the back end of the bullpen when he returns from the disabled list. Monasterios, while flaming out for the time being as a starting pitcher after a briefly glorious run, remains adequate for long relief. Assuming the Dodgers still have a long-term vision for the Rule 5 draft-day acquisition, that's where he'll be.

That covers five of seven spots in the bullpen.

Ramon Troncoso is a question mark right now. Right now, as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports, we're in the phase of Troncoso claiming that overwork isn't the issue, but execution is.
"I feel perfect, I feel brand new, like a baby with a new toy," Troncoso said. "My arm is good. I'm here to pitch every day. I'm going to pitch in 50 more games this year. Of course this year has been frustrating for me, but if we win, everything is OK. I don't care about my ERA, I just want to pitch good and help the team."

Bullpen coach Ken Howell said Troncoso's problems this year are part mechanical, which he's cautiously optimistic have been worked out, and partly pitch selection and execution.

"He's been throwing the curveball instead of the sinker in some situations, and the sinker is his money pitch," said Howell. "And he needs to be at the bottom of the [strike] zone. When he's thigh-high and up, he gets in trouble. His stuff is fine, but he's not pounding the bottom of the zone with the consistency of last year. But lately it's been better."

And then there's George Sherrill.

Sherrill looks hopeless, but his lefty-right splits indicate that he does retain some value if he were used only against left-handed batters. Ned Colletti has cut bait on his relief acquisitions before — Danys Baez didn't even last a season in Los Angeles — but something tells me that Sherrill won't be sent away.

However, either Troncoso or Sherrill might end up on the disabled list, for reasons legit or not — and for that matter, Troncoso still has minor-league options remaining. So the Dodgers are probably looking for a couple of relievers as contingencies.

The thing is, they probably have them already.

It would be ironic, if it weren't easy enough to foresee, that the reason the Dodgers might trade for middle relief this year is that last year's trade for middle relief has gone south. Right now the Dodgers' farewell to Josh Bell, the organization's top third-base prospect, for Sherrill isn't one to savor; Bell was called up by the Baltimore Orioles to play the hot corner tonight. It so happens that the Dodgers caught lightning in a bottle with Sherrill and his sub-1.00 ERA with the team, but Sherrill's rapid decline this year illustrates how fluky that was.

The Dodgers have Travis Schlichting, Jon Link, Kenley Jansen, Josh Lindblom, Kiko Calero and James McDonald, among others, that they can test out in middle relief. Each comes with a mitigating factor — for example, McDonald, who returns from the minor-league disabled list tonight, might be considered the No. 6 starter right now — but from that group of six alone, odds are that at least one can do the job. (Cory Wade, outrighted to Albuquerque today after a minor-league rehab assignment, is also in line for a try.) So if the Dodgers decide they need a break from Troncoso or Sherrill, they have people they can turn to at no cost at all.

They might be like Justin Miller, who was brilliant when he arrived but has since faltered. They might be worse. But a fresh arm that major-league hitters aren't familiar with — or heck, a fresh arm period — often works wonders coming out of the pen. And you only need to make it for two months until September, when rosters expand and it's all hands on deck.

Los Angeles needs to be very careful about any trade for middle relief. The species is too erratic. What you have might well be as good as it gets.
Pitch counts for the Dodger bullpen since the team's last off day:

Tues.Wed.Thurs.
Ronald Belisario16  
Ramon Troncoso12 19
Jonathan Broxton 248
Jeff Weaver  17
Hong-Chih Kuo  15
Justin Miller  18
George Sherrill  1

It's not dire, but the use of the Dodger bullpen Thursday might compel the Dodgers to look for a reinforcement before tonight's Yankee game. Ramon Troncoso, Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton are borderline at best for tonight.

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. didn't like Joe Torre's use of Broxton with a four-run lead Thursday, and normally I wouldn't have either, but I defended Torre in the comments:
That stopped being the night for working out struggles after Sherrill gave up the hit. It was worthwhile for the Dodgers just to put that game away rather than hang on. The only other option after Sherrill was Belisario. If he gives up one hit, it’s 10-7, the tying run is on deck and the whole world is asking for Broxton.

If Broxton can’t pitch three games in a row, then he has to miss one Yankee game no matter what. Why not the Padilla game?

...

I don’t think Sherrill could be trusted (on this night) to get three outs with a four-run lead and one guy on base. He’s on the team because the Dodgers aren’t ready to cut bait on him yet.

They could have brought in Belisario, though I’d say he lowers your 95.1% win expectancy too. And if Belisario gives up but two baserunners – and that’s with Hunter, Matsui and Napoli due up – your tying run is at the plate and you’ve burned both pitchers.

If you think Belisario can do a good job, then let him do that job for two innings Friday. Thursday’s game, if only for subjective reasons, was a special case.

Anyway, whether Stephen's right or I'm right, we look ahead.

Though I'm ready to designate Charlie Haeger for assignment, sending him back to Albuquerque if he clears waivers or wishing him well if he doesn't, the Dodgers might hold onto him at least until Chad Billingsley is activated Monday. If that's the case, another option is to put the shaky Ramon Troncoso on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. This is purely a hunch, but it really seems like he could use the break. That would also allow the premature recall of Travis Schlichting inside the 10-day waiting period.

I thought Jon Link might be called up today, but he pitched 1 1/3 innings Thursday for the Isotopes. A bold move would be to take a look at Kenley Jansen, who in 17 1/3 AA innings has allowed nine hits and 12 walks while striking out 28.

Keep in mind that the Dodgers' main use for a pitcher tonight is for long relief in case Vicente Padilla's outing is short. That's why a Troncoso-for-Schlichting exchange might be the best at this point. I think Schlichting could do Troncoso's job for a couple weeks.

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WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
20 1.80 228 190
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .301
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