Part of the Dodgers' plan this season involved turning over close games late to their bullpen, specifically the trio of Ronald Belisario, Kenley Jansen, and Brandon League. But as that trio, or at least two thirds of it struggles, Paco Rodriguez continues to make a case for himself to pitch higher leverage innings.
Belisario took the loss on Friday night against the Marlins, allowing three consecutive hits to start the seventh inning, and two runs. It was the third time in four outings he has allowed at least one run, but that followed a stretch where he was nearly unhittable for a week. It's been an up and down year for Belisario, who has amazing stuff but doesn't always seem to know where it's going.
"Beli's stuff is so good that when it's down and it's moving, it doesn't matter. Tonight the fastball was flat," manager Don Mattingly said on Friday night. "That's when he gets hit, when he's flat."
Belisario's loss followed Kenley Jansen (Wednesday) and Brandon League (Tuesday) each falling victim to a game-winning Paul Goldschmidt home run. Over the final two months of 2012 that trio combined for a 2.36 ERA with 90 strikeouts and 25 unintentional walks in 76⅓ innings. So far in 2013, the trio has a 3.88 ERA with 46 strikeouts and 15 unintentional walks in 48⅔ innings, with only Jansen having a solid season to date.
"I'm concerned with everybody, it seems like every time we bring a reliever in, for the most part. In the last few games, it's been our big boys," Mattingly said. "The guys we've been trying to halfway protect, to save them from getting too much wear and tear, these are the guys that we really try to get to. If we get seven-eight-nine, we pretty much know where we want to go. But that formula, like everything else, doesn't seem to be working."
Enter Paco Rodriguez, who at this time last year was finishing up at the University of Florida. The left-hander, picked in the second round of the 2012 draft, pitched two scoreless innings Friday night, and has retired 19 of the 20 batters he has faced, including 10 by strikeout.
Rodriguez has been used in increasingly higher leverage situations, and could see even more action in the late innings.
"Rick (Honeycutt, pitching coach) and I talked about that during the game tonight, the way he has been going. He's been getting righties and lefties out. We'll take a look," Mattingly said. "It's hard to stay status quo. You want to stick to your plan and stick to your guns, because you plan a long time to get somewhere and get in positions to get the ball to people you want. You hate to just jump ship on that and give up on guys. But this wouldn't be giving up on guys, it's just (Paco) saying I can pitch back here and get both guys out. He's worked his way really more and more toward that role."
It's still early in Rodriguez's career, as he has only pitched 20⅔ major league innings, dating back to last season. But so far he has shown the ability to get both left-handed batters (.128/.171/.154 against in 42 plate appearances) and right-handed batters (.148/.281/.148 in 32 PA) out. We'll see if that earns Rodriguez a more prominent role in the bullpen going forward.