After a season turnaround that ended in the NLCS, one focus for the Los Angeles Dodgers during the off-season was to re-sign key relievers, which they did, and they also managed to add to their already strong bullpen with new acquisitions. J.P. Howell and Brian Wilson re-signed with the team, and Paul Maholm, Chris Perez and Jamey Wright were signed as free agents.
With Perez added to the fold and Wilson re-signed, the Dodgers were set to carry four pitchers with closer’s experience, including Brandon League and Kenley Jansen. The deep bullpen has yet to reach its full capacity as an injury to Clayton Kershaw forced Maholm to the starting rotation and Wilson spent 15 days on the disabled list. Nonetheless, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly recently got a glimpse of the difficult roster decisions a loaded bullpen can lead to.
Chris Withrow filled in admirably during Wilson’s stint on the DL, which made for an interesting situation when the former San Francisco Giant was eligible to be reinstated. Of the Dodger relievers on the roster, Jansen, Paco Rodriguez and Withrow were the only arms who could be optioned to the minors without first needing to clear waivers. Jansen, despite his struggles, is entrenched as the closer, and considering Wilson and Withrow are both right handed, it was presumed Withrow would be the odd man out.
Instead, Mattingly somewhat surprisingly sent Rodriguez to Triple-A, which has resulted in Howell being the only left-handed reliever in the bullpen. That decision may be attributed to the confidence Mattingly has in Howell, according to Earl Bloom on Dodgers.com:
We feel like he can get left-handers and right-handers out,” Mattingly said.
As for Howell being the lone lefty reliever, Mattingly also believes there are other pitchers in the bullpen who are capable of facing left-handed hitters, via Bloom:
We’ve got a couple of [right-handed] guys out there we’re comfortable using against left-handed hitters,” Mattingly said, citing Chris Withrow and Jamey Wright.
In his career, right-handed hitters have a .247 batting average against Howell, compared to .227 for left-handed batters. This season, Howell has fared better against righties, limiting them to a .188 average, whereas left-handed hitters have had slightly more success at .222.
Upon Kershaw’s return, Mattingly may find himself once again needing to adjust his bullpen as either Josh Beckett or Maholm will likely be removed from the starting rotation. For now, Howell remains the only left-handed arm in the bullpen, but not exclusively as a situational pitcher.
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