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Justin Bruihl on making 1st opening day roster & his role in the Dodgers bullpen

Los Angeles Dodgers v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — During the last week of spring training at Camelback Ranch in Arizona, Dodgers left-hander Justin Bruihl, was one of a handful of pitchers fighting for a spot on the 28-man active roster to start the season.

“I was just walking in from stretch, me and Daniel Hudson were walking together,” Bruihl recalled Saturday. “Doc was coming the other way, and pulled us aside.”

Bruihl made his major league debut last August, and his roster status for the 24-year-old left-hander this season was very much in question. Hudson, who signed a one-year, $7 million contract in November that includes a team option for 2023, has a secure roster spot.

“They were walking in together, and palling around. I just had to make sure Daniel knew he was on the team, so I just told him he made the club,” Roberts recalled with a laugh. “As a secondary footnote, I told Justin he made the team, too. I think his family was in town that day, so it was a special moment.”

The Dodgers signed Bruihl as an undrafted free agent in 2017 out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. That reminded me of a discussion I had earlier in the week about a tweet naming the best college towns in each state. San Luis Obispo was not named for California (the pick was San Diego State), so I asked Bruihl about his college experience there.

“It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been,” he said. “It’s called the happiest place in the world for a reason, and I totally understand why.”

Bruihl didn’t spend any time at the alternate training site at USC after the 2020 minor league season was canceled, but worked his way through Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City, earning a call-up on August 8, his first time on a 40-man roster.

In the majors, Bruihl made a name for himself by holding left-handed batters to just six singles in 40 at-bats (.150/.209/.150), utilizing mostly a cutter but also mixing in a slider and sinker. The Dodgers used the rookie in 21 of 51 games down the stretch, a 67-game pace over a full season.

He also pitched his way onto the NLCS roster, and in three games against the Braves pitched two scoreless innings. Bruihl struck out five of his seven batters faced, including new teammate Freddie Freeman once in Game 1.

That NLCS performance had Bruihl brimming with confidence heading into the winter.

“I think this offseason, I tried to do a little too much. I tried to change a little bit of what made me successful last year,” Bruihl said. “Coming into camp, coaches just reinforced, ‘Don’t do more than what you did last year,’ because that’s what made me successful.”

On a team with a 16-man pitching staff, including nine relievers and two starting pitchers in the bullpen, opportunities for Bruihl could be few and far between. He has pitched twice so far this season, throwing two scoreless innings with a walk and a strikeout.

“I just try to keep [my routine] the same, for the most part,” Bruihl said. “I understand my role, it’s mostly lefty-lefty and matchups. Pretty much the same as it was last year.”