LOS ANGELES -- It was just one game and one day of a long season, but opening day proved to be a success for the new guys in the Dodgers bullpen, with three pitchers combining for three scoreless innings in the club's 6-3 win over the Padres at Dodger Stadium.
Yimi Garcia, Joel Peralta and Chris Hatcher combined to allow one hit and no walks, though Hatcher did hit a batter, with three total strikeouts among them. They were able to stem the tide, allowing the Dodgers offense to turn a 3-2 deficit after six innings into a 6-3 win.
"It's good to see those guys come in, and in big situations. Yimi Garcia was kind of the breakout star of spring training for us, and he just picked up right where he left off from Camelback Ranch," catcher A.J. Ellis said after the game. "We all know Joel Peralta is a big-game pitcher. He's been in big-time situations. Hatcher in a save situation on his first day, was able to rebound after the first guy got on. Getting those ground balls."
Both baserunners were erased on double plays in the eighth and ninth, partially the result of an emphasis on defense up the middle with Howie Kendrick at second base and Jimmy Rollins at shortstop.
Garcia didn't need much defense, as Ellis alluded picking up right where he left off during spring training. Garcia, who allowed just one run in 11⅓ innings in the Cactus League and led Dodgers relievers with 15 strikeouts, struck out two and allowed a pop fly to left field in the seventh inning, throwing 93-94 mph, when the Dodgers were still trailing 3-2.
The Dodgers were entering dangerous territory, and not just because San Diego added to its already elite bullpen with the acquisition of Craig Kimbrel, the best closer in the game.
But manager Don Mattingly said the Padres' acquisition of Kimbrel wouldn't affect his preparation or game plan against San Diego.
"The Padres have had a really good bullpen. They didn't give up hardly anything in the eighth or ninth last year," Mattingly said. "If everything goes right, we don't see Kimbrel. It's like anybody else, when you get to the closer, you're in trouble."
Indeed, even without Kimbrel the Padres were unreal in 2014, going 60-1 in games in which they lead entering the seventh inning, the best mark in baseball. That .984 winning percentage far outpaced the MLB average of .877 in such situations.
The Dodgers were on the opposite end on offense, going 2-54 when trailing entering the seventh inning, an .036 winning percentage that was worst in MLB.
What a difference a year makes.
The closer that got to take the mound on Monday at Dodger Stadium was Hatcher, who was warming up in the bottom of the eighth inning, planning to enter a tie game until Rollins homered to give the Dodgers a lead.
"There was only one out, so that gave me a chance to rest," Hatcher said smiling.
Fortified with a three-run lead, he hit Jedd Gyorko to open the ninth, but Hatcher, throwing 95-96 mph, settled down and just two pitches later got Yonder Alonso to ground to shortstop for a double play. A five-pitch strikeout of Alexi Amarista gave Hatcher a save in his Dodgers debut.
Though he saved 55 games in the minor leagues, this was the first career save in the majors for Hatcher, 30, who kept the ball from his final pitch of the game. Not bad for his first opening day.
Whether Hatcher remains the closer going forward for the first month remains to be seen. Mattingly was reluctant to name any single pitcher his closer on Monday, and insisted the club would use matchups each day to determine the best pitchers to use in each situation.
The Dodgers' regular catcher-turned-closer, Kenley Jansen, walked onto the field during pregame introductions in a walking boot, even though he had that removed last week. Though Mattingly said this was not a setback for Jansen, but rather part of the process, and only precautionary.
"That's part of the process for him," Mattingly said. "They have him in the boot still partially to rest, gradually building up the strength in the foot."
Jansen for a week has still been able to throw and workout with no boot on, and he is still on target for his planned return of roughly May 1.