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Dodgers Facing Tough Bullpen Decisions Ahead of Opening Day



One of the many storylines heading into the 2021 season was the pitching depth within the Dodgers organization. This team was already deep following their World Series win in 2020, but they’ve gone out and added even more names to throw in the mix. With so many talented players vying for a spot on the Opening Day roster, Spring Training has taken on a new level of importance for many of them.

Here we take a look at some of the names that are making noise this spring training, who may be playing their way out of a role, and a few in-betweeners. 

Overachieving

Jimmy Nelson – 3.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 4 SO

There are 8 pitchers on this team who could start a game if the season began tomorrow, and Jimmy Nelson is one of them. With so many starters already on the 40-man roster, it seemed likely that the team would bring Nelson along as a reliever. Instead, Dave Roberts has made it clear that the organization views him as a starter, leaving more questions for how the rotation will stack up.

To his credit, Nelson has looked great in his 3 innings of work this spring. He’s had command of all of his pitches and looks healthy after having back surgery last season. If the team were to start the season with Nelson in the starting rotation, that would almost certainly mean both Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin would move to the bullpen.

Dennis Santana – 4.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 5 SO

Santana faces a tougher challenge on the road to a roster spot, but he’s looked incredibly impressive so far this spring. He’s only given up one hit all spring, and his velocity has been in the high 90’s consistently.

Dave Roberts has praised Dennis as one of the standouts of Spring Training thus far, mentioning that he’s commanding the ball as well as anyone else. With all of the right-handed options out of the bullpen, the Dodgers may have no choice but to find a spot for Santana if he keeps this up.

Garrett Cleavinger – 4.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 7 SO

No pitcher has been more impressive this spring than Garrett Cleavinger. His velocity has consistently played up, and he’s held hitters to a .143 average in his 4 appearances. It’s no surprise that he’s tied for the team lead in appearances this spring, as the Dodgers are giving him strong consideration for a spot in the pen. Still, not many expected him to look this good so early into his tenure with LA.

Dave Roberts has mentioned his desire for two lefties out of the bullpen, and with Victor González essentially a lock for one of those spots, Cleavinger is making it extremely difficult to leave him out of the conversation.

Underperforming

Scott Alexander – 2.2 IP, 6.75 ERA, 2 SO

It’s hard to pick on a player with such a small sample size this spring, but the large number of overachievers makes it necessary. While Alexander’s inflated ERA actually only amounts to two runs given up, his pitches haven’t looked sharp enough to excuse it. Opposing batters are currently hitting .364 off of Alexander, the highest average against a Dodgers pitcher vying for a bullpen spot aside from Corey Knebel.

With Cleavinger making an impressive case to be the second lefty in the bullpen, Scott has some ground to make up to remain in the conversation as we get closer to Opening Day.

Question Marks

Joe Kelly

Kelly figured to be a lock in the bullpen this season, but he’s yet to appear in a game and it’s starting to be a concern. Joe Kelly had been a limited participant due to an undisclosed illness, but the fact that there is no plan to get him into games yet has led to questions about something more. It doesn’t help that Dave Roberts has admitted that he may not be ready for Opening Day.

Assuming that Kelly isn’t ready by April 1st, the Dodgers have plenty of capable arms to fill the void. Still, this isn’t an ideal start to a contract season for an aging reliever.

NEXT: Victor Gonzalez Next Star LA Reliever? Dennis Santana Impressing!

Written by Daniel Palma

Daniel is an avid sports fan who loves his hometown teams. If he's not watching baseball, you can find him playing or coaching. No matter what, he'll always root for the Boys in Blue!

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