Billingsley, Dodgers Seek to Ease Bullpen Burden

We realized the bullpen was in trouble yesterday when Will.i.am was brought in the pitch the seventh inning.

One of the themes of the young Dodger season so far has been the struggling bullpen.  The relief corps is near the bottom of the National League in ERA (5.96, 13th), FIP (4.58, 11th), and x-FIP (5.00, 15th).  However, there are reasons not to panic, at least not yet.  One is that we are just seven games into the season.  Two more reasons are the eagerly anticipated returns of Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario, both key cogs in last year's dominant bullpen.

Hong-Chih Kuo is still in bullpen session mode, and the Dodgers are looking at a return at the end of April, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.  For Belisario, his decision date is April 25, the date by which the Dodgers have to either activate him from the restricted list or designate him for assignment.  The latter choice seems unlikely, but then again, it also seemed unlikely that Belisario would show up 35 days late to camp.  Either way, the point is that the Dodger bullpen is what it is for the next two weeks or so.

One way to ease the bullpen pain is to have Jonathan Broxton pitch in higher leverage situations.  Baseball-Reference.com calculates Average Leverage Index, with 1.0 being average, below 1.0 being low pressure situations, and above 1.0 being high pressure situations.  Here is the Average Leverage Index for the Dodger bullpen this season:

Reliever aLI
George Sherrill 1.980
Jeff Weaver 1.875
Ramon Ortiz 1.266
Ramon Troncoso 1.101
Russ Ortiz 0.729
Jonathan Broxton 0.309
Carlos Monasterios   0.119

Another way to ease the burden on the bullpen is for the starters to pitch deeper into the game.  In seven games, only Hiroki Kuroda and Charlie Haeger have completed six innings, something Dodger starters did 92 times last season.

Tonight's starter is Chad Billingsley, who was effective in his last outing, striking out seven while allowing just one run, but lasted only 5 1/3 due to wildness, issuing four walks while throwing 107 pitches.  A 34-pitch, two-walk fourth inning had its highs and lows, as Billingsley loaded the bases but also struck out the side, including the final two batters looking.  As the pressure mounted, Billingsley rose to the occasion in Pittsburgh: of the six Pirates he faced with runners in scoring position, Billingsley struck out four, walked one, and induced a double play.

Rodrigo Lopez get the start for the Diamondbacks, fresh off allowing one run in six innings against the Pirates.  My Spanish might be a little rusty, but I believe "Lopez" is Spanish for "Ortiz."

MLB Pitchers 2005-2010
Pitcher ERA MLB Rank*
Rodrigo Ortiz Lopez 5.20 218th
Ramon Ortiz 5.50 232th
Russ Ortiz 6.55 240th
*out of 240; minimum 300 IP

Other Notes

  • Brad Ausmus got some bad news on his 41st birthday today, as it was decided he will undergo surgery tomorrow to repair a herniated disc in his back.  The surgery will be performed by Dr. Robert Watkins, and will likely sideline Ausmus until late summer.
  • At 3 hours, 42 minutes, yesterday's game was the longest home opener in Los Angeles Dodger history
  • With 31 walks in their first seven games, the Dodgers are on pace for a whopping 717 walks this season.  The Dodgers have eclipsed the 700-walk mark just once in their 126-year history, with the 1947 team amassing 732 bases on balls.  That season was one of only three seasons the Dodgers have had two players with 100 or more walks:
1945 Eddie Stanky (148), Augie Galan (114)
1947   Pee Wee Reese (104), Eddie Stanky (103)   
1952 Gil Hodges (107), Jackie Robinson (106)
  • Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness has added an Ortiz DFA-o-Meter on the top right side of his website.
  • To relive the home opener in pictures, Sons of Steve Garvey has some wonderful compilations here and here.
  • Joel McHale, star of two of the funniest shows on television ("Community" and "The Soup") will throw out tonight's ceremonial first pitch

Here are the lineups, second verse the same as the first:

Diamondbacks      Dodgers
LF Jackson SS Furcal
SS Drew    CF Kemp
RF Upton RF Ethier
1B LaRoche LF Manny
3B Reynolds       1B Loney
CF Young 3B Blake
2B Johnson 2B DeWitt
C Snyder C Martin
P Lopez P Billingsley     

Game Time:  7:10pm

TV:  Prime Ticket

Baseball Reference Preview | Box Score | Gameday

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