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Dodgers relievers getting plenty of rest, by design

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A closer look at bullpen usage in the early going for the Dodgers

San Francisco Giants v. Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Dodgers closed out their win over the Padres on Tuesday with three of the usual suspects out of the bullpen. Pedro Baez in the seventh, Blake Treinen in the eighth, and Kenley Jansen in the ninth all tossed scoreless frames.

Baez and Jansen both pitched on one day rest, which is completely normal. But in the early going of the truncated pandemic season, those outings stood out given how the Dodgers have used their relief pitchers so far.

Baez recorded four outs and threw 27 pitches in Sunday’s win over the Diamondbacks, while Jansen threw 21 pitches in a scoreless ninth in Arizona. Dodgers relievers have thrown at least 20 pitches and/or pitched in multiple innings in 14 appearances through Monday. In the first 12 of those times, that pitcher got at least two days off after.

Days rest after long outings

Pitcher Date IP/pitches Days rest after
Pitcher Date IP/pitches Days rest after
Baez Jul 23 1⅓/20 2
Kolarek Jul 23 1⅔/14 2
McGee Jul 25 1/21 3
Santana Jul 25 2/34 3
Baez Jul 26 1/25 2
Jansen Jul 29 1/23 3
McGee Jul 29 1*/17 2
Santana Jul 29 2⅓/33 2
Alexander Jul 29 1⅔/20 3
Baez Jul 30 1/20 2
Treinen Jul 31 ⅔/23 3
Gonzalez Jul 31 1+/24 4^
Jansen Aug 2 1/21 1
Baez Aug 2 1/27 1
Treinen Aug 4 1/21 TBD
*McGee pitched in parts of 2 innings on July 29 ^Gonzalez hasn’t yet pitched since Friday

That Baez and Jansen each pitched with one day rest on Tuesday isn’t cause for alarm by any means. It’s more in line with how bullpens are usually used. But there’s hardly anything usual about this season.

After a nearly four-month layoff with varying degrees of readiness in the interim, teams only had three weeks of summer camp to prepare their pitchers for the regular season. Keep in mind that a normal spring training lasts six weeks, mostly to allow starting pitchers time to build up arm strength. Dodgers starting pitchers are only averaging 4.86 innings per start so far, and that’s good enough for ninth-best in baseball.

That leaves a lot of innings to be thrown by relievers, and that’s before considering the possibility of extra innings, let alone a 13-inning game. Luckily, expanded rosters helped spread around that burden.

Major league active rosters have 30 players for the first week of the season. The Dodgers have one more game under this format, with rosters trimmed to 28 on Thursday for the rest of the season. The Dodgers have mostly used the extra spots on pitchers, carrying 16 pitchers for the first six games and 17 pitchers for the last six games. With a few starters on the injured list in the early going, the Dodgers have carried between 11 and 13 relievers at a time, and currently have 12 in their bullpen.

They’ve spread the work around quite a bit. Eleven relievers have pitched at least three games, nine pitched at least four games, with Baez and Brusdar Graterol pitching six games, half of the schedule so far. Roberts said Baez would likely be off Wednesday, which coupled with Thursday’s scheduled off day would give him two days without pitching.

Days off have been prevalent so far for the Dodgers bullpen. Only seven times have they used a pitcher on zero days’ rest, and nobody more than once. Last year during the first 12 games of the season (also over 13 days, like this year), the Dodgers used a reliever 22 times on no days’ rest, including four different pitchers four times each.

They’ve only used a pitcher three times in four days four times so far this season, once each for Jansen, Treinen, Caleb Ferguson, and Joe Kelly.

“It’s understanding that it was a it was a quicker ramp up, and you really want to take care of guys’ health,” Dave Roberts said Tuesday. “We just want to do everything we can to guard against injury for them.”

The results have been excellent so far. LA is one of three bullpens yet to allow a home run, and the other two (Nationals, Cardinals) have played in a COVID-adjusted eight and five games, respectively. Dodgers relievers are second in the majors in ERA (1.22), third in FIP (2.26), ninth in xFIP (3.74), and first in fWAR (1.4).

We’ll see a return somewhat closer to normal relief usage soon enough, with rosters shrinking to 28 players and starting pitchers eventually lasting longer into games, at least ideally. But once called upon as the year goes on, maybe that judicious use early on might payoff.