Justin Bruihl followed up his first major league season by filling a very specific if not diminishing role in his second year with the Dodgers.
Bruihl shot up through two minor league levels to reach the majors in 2021, and earned a high-leverage postseason role. In 2022, he made his first opening day roster, one of 16 Dodgers pitchers to begin the season.
How Bruihl found out he was on the roster was pretty fun. He was walking back to the clubhouse in spring training along with Daniel Hudson, a free-agent signee with a secure spot on the team. Manager Dave Roberts passed them and stopped to tell Hudson he made the team, and then, almost as an aside, casually said Bruihl made the roster, too.
The left-handed Bruihl had four major league stints over the season, appearing in 24 games. He’s one of only five Dodgers relievers to appear in 20 games in each of the last two seasons.
The three-batter minimum for relief pitchers (unless they end an inning) makes it harder for Bruihl, who allowed all four of his home runs in 2022 to right-handed batters. But it’s also a testament to his prowess against left-handed batters that’s earned him 45 major league relief appearances over the last season and a half.
In his two years in the majors, Bruihl has neutralized left-handers to the tune of .195/.239/.230, while right-handers have hit .281/.390/.531 against him. It’s not the largest sample size, with 94 plate appearances against lefties and 79 against righties. But his minor league splits from 2021-22 are also pronounced — .220/.291/.360 against lefties, .250/.341/.423 against righties.
Bruihl doesn’t throw hard, with only three of his 341 pitches this year reaching 90 mph. His average fastball velocity is in the second percentile in the majors. Among the 546 major league pitchers with at least 20 innings this season, Bruihl’s 13-percent strikeout rate ranked 529th. It’s the fifth-lowest strikeout rate by a Dodgers pitcher over the last 10 years.
But yet, with LOOGYs no longer a thing, and not lighting up the radar gun, Bruihl has found a way to contribute.
Stats: 24 games, 3.80 ERA, 5.35 FIP, 3.72 xERA, 23⅔ IP, 13 K, 4 unintentional BB
Game of the year
Bruihl entered a tough situation on September 18 in San Francisco, with the bases loaded and two outs in the 10th inning. He was the eighth Dodgers pitcher of the game in a series finale on Sunday Night Baseball, clinging to a 4-3 lead after Andre Jackson walked a pair and allowed a run to score while recording the first two outs of the frame.
Bruihl engaged with LaMonte Wade Jr. in a seven-pitch battle, running the count full before inducing a harmless groundout to Freddie Freeman at first base to end the game. Bruihl’s one out was enough to record his first major league save. Bruihl was the 10th different Dodgers pitcher to record a save in a year they would set a franchise record with 12 pitchers saving at least one game.
It was Bruihl’s first save as a professional since July 26, 2019, when he was pitching for Low-A Great Lakes.
Bruihl has 146 days of major league service time, and has two option years remaining, having used an option in 2022.