The Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen.
A strength in 2013 became the team’s biggest weakness by the end of 2014, and was the main scapegoat in the team’s early exit from the postseason. In three of the four playoff games, the first man out of the bullpen allowed a home run that changed the game. While the Dodgers were linked to many of the big names this offseason, they ended up with none of them. They decided to rely on the young talent that they had, along with some potential diamonds in the rough signed to minor-league deals.
In the end, the Dodgers didn’t keep any of the players invited to big league camp and went the way of youth. Here’s a breakdown of the Opening Day bullpen.
Juan Nicasio, RHP
Brought over from the Colorado Rockies, Nicasio is a failed starter that found better success in the bullpen last season. The right-hander is the long-man in this bullpen, but his stuff can be lights out in the later innings as well. Making him a reliever allowed him to be able to hone in his stuff for limited time, meaning he could focus more on his fastball and slider.
Nicasio didn’t exactly shut it down this spring, allowing 10 earned runs in 13.1 innings; however, he did have 12 strikeouts and just two walks in that amount of time. The 28-year-old will have to continue to develop as a reliever, and could become the dark horse of the bullpen.
If he can give the Dodgers solid innings, rack up the strikeouts and keep his ERA under 4.00, then manager Don Mattingly would be a happy man.
Pedro Baez, RHP
The hard-throwing right-hander is a former third baseman who was converted to pitcher and was a consistent arm in the final stretch of 2014. He did allow a home run to Matt Holliday in Game 1 of the NLDS, but Baez was expected to be a contributor to the bullpen this season. He throws hard and he throws strikes, which makes him valuable to what the Dodgers want in their bullpen.
Baez’s biggest issue is relying too much on his fastball that doesn’t have too much movement. He will need to find the right mix between that and his off-speed pitches in order to sustain his success over a whole season. Although he allowed seven runs (six earned) in 10 inning this spring, he also added 11 strikeouts to just two walks.
The 27-year-old has options left, meaning the Dodgers can send him down if he struggles to get outs consistently.
Yimi Garcia, RHP
Another young arm that debuted in 2014 and did well. Garcia allowed just two runs in 10 innings last September, and outdid that performance this spring, allowing just one earned run in 11.1 innings. The right-hander isn’t a flame-thrower, but he throws strikes and mixes his pitches well.
Garcia pitched his way onto the roster this spring, and will have to continue to do so in order to remain on it throughout the year. Despite his lack of a lights out fastball, he finished the spring with 15 strikeouts in his 10 appearances. His biggest issue has been his susceptibility to the long ball, but that will happen to any reliever.
The 24-year-old is another pitcher with options to be sent down, so he will have to make sure he does enough to stay aboard.
Paco Rodriguez, LHP
After a strong audition in 2012 and an even better 2013 (minus the tail end of the season), Rodriguez found himself a product of having options in 2014. Because he was able to be moved to the minors, he spent most of his time down there because of more expensive arms on the roster. He pitched just 14 innings with the Dodgers, and had a respectable 3.86 ERA, but he made sure he would not suffer the same fate in 2015.
Rodriguez has been lights out this spring, not allowing a single run in 10.2 innings pitched. He struck out 13 and walked none, looking like the promising left-handed talent he was after being drafted in 2012. The 23-year-old could find himself at the end of some games until Kenley Jansen comes back, depending on what Mattingly is thinking.
The left-hander was on a mission this spring and he will carry that fire and attitude into the season.
Chris Hatcher, RHP
One of the pieces acquired in the trade that sent Dee Gordon to Miami, Hatcher has been mentioned as one of the options to close games out until Jansen returns. He enjoyed a breakout season with the Marlins in 2014, and the Dodgers hope he can improve on that this year. He owns a mid-90s fastball with off-speed pitches to complement.
Hatcher was hot and cold this spring, allowing six earned runs in 8.2 innings; however, he mixed in some scoreless appearances with some bad appearances. The Dodgers will need more of the former or they could find themselves in a dilemma. Hatcher is out of options and will need to pitch well to keep the Dodgers from potentially losing him.
If Hatcher is lights out, expect Mattingly to try and use him as the “closer” for the first month or so.
Joel Peralta, RHP
Joel Peralta is the veteran of the group at the age of 39 with 10 years experience. He was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in order to bring some stability to a bullpen lacking it. Though his ERA doesn’t show it, Peralta had a solid season in 2014 and brings that to the Dodgers in 2015.
After dealing with some arm issues early in the spring, the right-hander came back and pitched well. In 8.1 innings pitched, Peralta allowed five runs (four earned) with four strikeouts and a walk. The veteran will throw strikes and should settle in as one of the late-inning guys.
Mattingly will count on Peralta on and off the mound, as he will be leaned on by the younger arms for guidance.
J.P. Howell, LHP
Howell has been one of the top relievers in the league the past two seasons, although his struggles in September and October overshadowed his strong season. It seemed as if Howell was coming out of the bullpen just about every game last year, but that will be aided by the addition of Rodriguez this season.
The 31-year-old dealt with a groin issue in the spring, but finished the camp strong and showed what he’s shown over the last two season with the Dodgers. He could find himself closing out some games as well, based on matchups. Mattingly needs to trust others in the bullpen, in order to keep Howell fresh for the stretch run.
Expect more of the same from the consistent left-hander this season.
Dodgers 2015 Spring Training – Paco Rodriguez