LOS ANGELES -- Brandon McCarthy’s lost season has the potential to severely damage the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rotation, but the team’s think tank is just as concerned about it affecting another area of the club.
McCarthy will not pitch again this season after an ulnar collateral ligament tear in his right elbow was discovered Monday, likely leading to Tommy John surgery soon. In the aftermath, the Dodgers have to tap their pitching depth to replace him, and that could mean picking someone like Carlos Frias from the bullpen or giving starts to someone currently in the minor leagues.
Both options could lead to fewer innings covered by the rotation, leaving the bullpen exposed to overused.
“It always comes back to the bullpen, and ironically enough, this injury scares me [for] the bullpen,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “We have [starters] that I feel like can help keep us in games. I worry about the length they are going to provide, and the toll it’s going to take on the bullpen. But we also have a really deep bullpen.”
As has been thoroughly documented and addressed, the bullpen was the softest part of last season’s team. By year’s end, manager Don Mattingly clearly did not trust it entirely and was forced to either leave in starters longer than he wanted or overuse the couple of bullpen arms he did have faith in.
Over the offseason, Friedman and his front-office mates did a bit of remodeling in that area, and through the first few weeks of the season the bullpen has become a strength rather than a question mark.
The relievers have the third-lowest ERA in the National League (2.44) as well as a league-leading 75 strikeouts.
Rookie right-hander Yimi Garcia is the most impressive of the group to this point. He pitched a scoreless eighth inning with two strikeouts Monday, bringing his season totals to 10 2/3 innings, 18 strikeouts and one earned run allowed (0.84 ERA). He is striking out 15.2 batters per nine innings, and Mattingly is trusting him to put away the opposing team’s best hitters later in the game, as he did Monday when he faced Angel Pagan, Buster Posey and Justin Maxwell.
The bullpen’s emergence has come minus closer Kenley Jansen, who is at least two weeks away from returning from offseason foot surgery. In his absence, the Dodgers have chosen their closer based on nightly situations, with four different pitchers getting chances. Joel Peralta leads the team with three saves, but he went on the disabled list Sunday with a dead arm.
With McCarthy’s injury straining the rotation, the goal is to monitor the bullpen so that stress does not spill over.
“We’re just going to have to continue to work through series to series and week to week to make sure we’re not putting our relievers in harm’s way in terms of how much workload they are taking on,” Freidman said. “We have guys on both the right side and left side that we feel can help eat up some of these innings.”