Through 23 games this season, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bullpen has been taxed, be it by abrupt outings from starters or extra inning contests.
One of the more heavily used arms, as Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com points out, is closer Kenley Jansen, who has made 15 appearances in the team’s first 23 games and is on pace to break Mike Marshall’s record for relief appearances of 106 games. Manager Don Mattingly had this to say about the bullpen’s workload:
“We’re paying attention,” said manager Don Mattingly. “There are a lot of factors. Our starters have been 12th in innings pitched. Our bullpen has pitched 80 innings. We’ve asked a lot of innings out there. Now we’re playing 29 of 30 [days]. I know that pace can’t keep up and I don’t think it will. You’ll see it get better.”
Jansen also offered some comforting words, saying his arm feels fine. The problem, however, is that this is may be less of an outlier and more of a trend.
In 2013, the Dodgers placed three relievers in the top-10 in games pitched by the end of the season. Leading the way was Ronald Belisario, who appeared in 77 games and saw his production drop off late in the season, when his ERA ballooned to 7.92 in September.
Next on the list was Paco Rodriguez, who made 76 appearances. Like his teammate, Rodriguez hit the wall at season’s end, posting a 5.68 ERA in September and continuing to struggle in the playoffs.
Jansen made 75 appearances, but actually saw his workload slightly decrease as the season wore on. In the first three months of the season, he faced 160 batters. In the latter three months, Jansen faced 132 hitters. After seeing 54 batters in the first month and 53 in both May and June, Jansen faced 49 in July, 42 in August and 41 in September.
Another point of concern is Jansen’s total number of pitches. Jon Weisman of DodgerInsider.com, notes that, in 32 days, Jansen has made 245 pitches and, in the past week, he’s thrown 58. While that may not seem like a lot at first glance, you have to factor in his daily workouts, along with warmup pitches in the bullpen to go along with the eight he throws before the inning starts. It adds up quickly and, with back-to-back appearances, leaves little time to recover.
Will it get better, as Mattingly suggests? Well, for starters, Clayton Kershaw is close to returning and there have been few starters who get into the later innings of the ballgame as consistently as the reigning Cy Young Award winner. The demotion of Chone Figgins for an eighth man in the bullpen is another good sign, as Figgins only made nine appearances and Jose Dominguez, who is likely place-holding for Paco Rodriguez, gives Mattingly another hard-throwing option.
Currently, Mattingly has three relievers who can close in Jansen, Chirs Perez and Brian Wilson. While it may cost Jansen a few saves, Mattingly would be wise to give his closer a day off here and there and allow one of the veterans to occasionally take the reins.
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