LOS ANGELES — After not making any roster moves for 16 days after opening day, the Dodgers have been busy transactionally for two days in a row. Before Monday’s game against the Mets, the Dodgers swapped bullpen arms, recalling left-hander Justin Bruihl from Triple-A Oklahoma City, with right-hander Andre Jackson optioned out.
Bruihl was off to a great start in Triple-A, allowing no runs in six innings in the offense-friendly Pacific Coast League, with nine strikeouts.
The non-drafted free agent signee has pitched for the Dodgers in each of the last few seasons, with a 3.40 ERA in 45 games, with 24 strikeouts and 13 walks in 42⅓ innings. Bruihl has extreme platoon splits during his time in the majors, which can be a hindrance with a three-batter minimum for relief pitchers. Bruihl in 2021-22 held left-handed batters to just .195/.239/.230, but right-handers hit .281/.390/.531 off him.
Everything is a small sample size at this point, but Bruihl has struck out five of his nine batters faced this season, allowing only one single.
“I’m mixing in a little more sliders than I have been in years past. It’s more of a strikeout pitch for me,” Bruihl said Monday. “I was pretty heavy cutter usage to righties the last few years. This year I’ve been adding in the slider more, especially with two strikes.”
Bruihl finished off three of his five strikeouts of right-handed batters with the slider, but so far his cutter and two-seam fastball have been working, too, against both sides.
“I think the big thing for me is making sure I’m sending up strikes, and getting weak contact,” he said.
Back spasms sidelined Bruihl for two weeks in spring training. In addition to not pitching in games, the back problems prevented him from lifting weights, and once he got back on a mound in game action again, on March 21, it took him a little more time to get back in stride. But he said his back’s been fine since the season started.
“Everything’s better across the board,” manager Dave Roberts said. “The velocity is up, the cutter has more late, livelier action. He’s commanding the baseball sort of the way he was first got here [in 2021].”
Adding Bruihl gives the Dodgers three left-handers in the bullpen, along with Alex Vesia and Caleb Ferguson. This week, they face a Mets team with left-handed hitters Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, Daniel Vogelbach, and Luis Guillorme, and on Monday New York called up another lefty, Brett Baty, to play third base. Next up is the Cubs, with left-handers Cody Bellinger, Eric Hosmer, and Edwin Ríos, plus backup catcher Tucker Barnhart. Chicago switch-hitter Ian Happ has far better career numbers against right-handers (.834 OPS) than southpaws (.705 OPS).
“With this lineup, there’s some lefties that we want to make sure we’re equipped to handle,” Roberts said. “And next series against the Cubs, the same thing.”
Roberts said Jackson won’t start in Triple-A, but continue to pitch in long relief, so that he’s ready to go three or four innings at a time if needed.
“It wasn’t about performance. It really wasn’t with Andre,” Roberts said. “I really wanted him to get him back in there at one point. But he’ll be back at some point.”