Opening day is four weeks from now, and we’re not yet even a week into spring training games, but there are enough tidbits of information that give us an idea of what the Dodgers bullpen might look like when the regular season begins on March 30.
Daniel Hudson likely won’t be ready by opening day, manager Dave Roberts told reporters Thursday morning at Camelback Ranch.
Dave Roberts said Daniel Hudson is progressing in spring training, but was doubtful he would be ready for Opening Day— David Vassegh (@THEREAL_DV) March 2, 2023
“It will be early in the season, but I don’t think Opening Day is a hard date for us.” #Dodgers
#Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Daniel Hudson is progressing well and is "full intensity" in bullpen sessions. But his status for Opening Day doesn't look likely.— Juan Toribio (@juanctoribio) March 2, 2023
Hudson’s timing isn’t too much of a surprise, considering his right ankle tendinitis was the talk back when camp opened two weeks ago. Hudson missed the final three-plus months of the 2022 season with a torn left ACL, and suffered the ankle setback during rehab for his other leg.
The veteran right-hander will likely be available at some point, but just not for opening day, which again is only one of 186 days on the 2023 schedule.
Reliever J.P. Feyereisen, acquired from the Rays in December, was already placed on the 60-day injured list and isn’t expected back from shoulder surgery until later in the season. Newly-signed right-hander Alex Reyes is likely headed for the injured list as well as he recovers from shoulder surgery that wiped out his entire 2022 season.
So which eight pitchers will begin the season in the Dodgers bullpen?
Evan Phillips and Yency Almonte are both out of options, but Phillips was the Dodgers’ best reliever last year and Almonte wasn’t too far behind, though he missed seven weeks with right elbow tightness late in the year. Those two combined for a 1.10 ERA in 98⅓ innings in 2022.
Phil Bickford was in their shoes at this time last year, coming off a fantastic season — 2.50 ERA, 29.5-percent strikeout rate in 50⅓ innings — after getting plucked off the scrap heap. Things didn’t work out so well last year for Bickford, whose 12 home runs allowed were twice as much as the next-most in the Dodgers bullpen, hastening his banishment to lower-leverage outings. Bickford is out of options now, meaning he’d need to be placed on waivers if he doesn’t make the team. His tenuous position on the depth chart essentially makes Bickford a roster invitee in camp, like a non-roster player except he’s currently on the 40-man roster.
Alex Vesia and Brusdar Graterol are locks. Shelby Miller was signed to a major league deal which makes him one, too. Same for Jimmy Nelson, with the caveat that he’s coming off Tommy John surgery and flexor tendon repair so nothing is set in stone. Nelson’s wildness on Wednesday — two walks and a groundball single in his three batters faced — was his first game appearance in 19 months, and came during a rainy inning with horrendous mound conditions, with pitchers’ cleats getting caked with dirt on nearly every pitch.
Caleb Ferguson is a fair bet to make the roster as well, given both his performance last year and rave reviews this year in camp.
Caleb Ferguson has been hitting 96-97 mph on the stadium gun here in Surprise –– a couple ticks up from his average fastball velo last year in return from Tommy John— Jack Harris (@Jack_A_Harris) March 1, 2023
Dave Roberts mentioned this week Ferguson "looks as good as I've seen him" and has more life on his pitches
Dave Roberts on Caleb Ferguson: "Caleb's in a great spot physically and mentally. The body just looks more athletic and I think that'll show itself as far as ball out of hand."— Matthew Moreno (@MMoreno1015) February 27, 2023
Phillips, Almonte, Graterol, Miller, and Nelson from the right side, plus Vesia and Ferguson from the left side makes for seven members of the potential Dodgers opening day bullpen.
The most intriguing pitcher from among the rest of the 40-man roster might be Victor González, who missed all of last season after elbow surgery, though he was ready to pitch come playoff time.
González has yet to pitch in a game this spring, but neither has Almonte. Phillips is set to make his first spring appearance against Arizona on Thursday.
If Nelson is healthy, which by all accounts to date have suggested, that essentially leaves one, maybe two bullpen spots up for grabs, between Ferguson, Bickford, González, Justin Bruihl, and Andre Jackson. There’s also Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove on the 40-man roster, but considering they are next on the rotation depth chart it’s likely they will remain starting, even if it’s in Triple-A to start the season.
Opening day is four weeks from now.