The Dodgers bullpen has been used very often for the last five weeks, working at a pace that has required a constant roster churn of fresh arms every day or two. Saturday provided a bright spot for a quartet of relievers who were instrumental in the 5-3 win over the Angels at Dodger Stadium.
The highlight of the night on the pitching side was the battle between Brusdar Graterol and Shohei Ohtani with two outs and two on in the eighth inning of a tie game. Graterol has battled through injuries and ineffectiveness this season, and was sent down to Triple-A Oklahoma City for what manager Dave Roberts called finishing school.
Specifically, the team wanted the hard-throwing Graterol to hone the command of his sinker and slider, so he can miss more bats, among other things. Graterol threw five pitches to Ohtani, including two sliders for called strikes, followed by this 101.5-mph sinker to strike out the American League MVP favorite.
One of the things that helped Graterol and his blazing two-seamer was to actually slow down, a suggestion that first came recently from third baseman Justin Turner, then fine tuned by the coaching staff.
“With those guys running with it, slowing his delivery down, which allowed for him to execute the two-seamer as well as the slider,” Roberts said. “Going forward, if we can keep that delivery intact, then we’re going to see the best of Brusdar.”
Graterol got the win on Saturday, but a pair of pitchers before him helped set the stage.
Julio Urías needed 95 pitches to get through five innings on Saturday, leaving the last four frames to the bullpen, trailing 3-2. Up first was Alex Vesia, who really has had a season in three acts.
The left-hander struggled mightily in May with the Dodgers in his first extended stretch of major league time. But Vesia found his command in Oklahoma City, even striking out 15 consecutive batters at one point. Since his return to the majors, Vesia has continued to impress, allowing only a run in 10 outings.
“There’s always that transition and getting to know your teammates. He’s just very comfortable right now, and very confident,” Roberts said. “I certainly look at him as a leverage guy.”
On Friday, he struck out all three batters he faced in the sixth, on 11 pitches.
Alex Vesia’s season in thirds
|May 1-June 2||Dodgers||10||10⅔||22.9%||33.3%||5.91||7.20|
|June 7-July 6||Oklahoma City||9||9||9.4%||59.4%||1.00||0.99|
Then came Phil Bickford, a waiver claim by the Dodgers on May 3, the 25-year-old former first-round pick who pitched all of two major league innings before joining the Dodgers bullpen.
So far, the right-hander has thrived, mostly with a fastball and slider, with a 2.37 ERA, 2.78 FIP, a 31-percent strikeout rate in 33 games with the Dodgers.
On Saturday, he retired the top of the Angels lineup in order, including a strikeout of Justin Upton. Not bad for someone who Roberts said didn’t know a thing about before he joined the team.
“He’s been one of the biggest joys of the season,” Roberts said. “He’s got that edge. He’s a sweetheart of a guy, but when he takes the baseball, he’s a savage. Guys love him. He’s one of those guys that I just don’t know where we’d be without him.”
After securing the lead in the eighth, Kenley Jansen was brought in for the ninth. He struck out Jack Mayfield, then got Justin Upton to fly out to center, and David Fletcher to pop out to Trea Turner in short right field. The rather uneventful save required only nine pitches, one night after a 12-pitch perfect ninth inning in a tie game.
Jansen had two perfect innings in April, six in May, and three in June. But before Friday, he went 13 games without pitching a 1-2-3 frame. Now he has back-to-back such games, and in a season with a career-worst 15.3-percent walk rate, throwing 20 strikes in 22 pitches the last two nights is a welcome sight.
Walker Buehler starts the series finale on Sunday afternoon (1:10 p.m.; SportsNet LA, MLB Network), with left-hander Reid Detmers, the Angels’ first-round draft pick in 2020, making his second career start.
After playing in the outfield the last two nights, Mookie Betts gets a day off on Sunday afternoon. Cody Bellinger, though he will primarily play against right-handed pitching, will get the start in right field against Detmers on Sunday, Roberts said.