It was a rare poor performance for the Dodgers’ pitching staff on Friday and Saturday in Phoenix. Clayton Kershaw didn’t have his sharpest stuff Friday, and Noah Syndergaard was hit around Saturday. The D-backs tacked on more against the bullpen on both nights.
The Dodgers’ starting rotation has been mostly lights out to start the season. Even with Syndergaard allowing six runs Saturday, LA starters are second in the National League in both ERA (3.18) and FIP (3.35), and their 5.67 innings per start are second in the majors, behind only Minnesota.
The Dodgers’ bullpen, on the other hand, has hit some minor bumps over the first nine games of the season. The LA relief squad has a 4.82 ERA, ranking ninth in the National League. The pen has a collective 1.250 WHIP in that span, and some numbers in the small sample size aren’t bad at all. The 5.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 3.4-percent walk rate are best in the league so far. The bullpen has only allowed four walks, fewest in the majors.
The strikeout totals (21 in 28 innings) are low, and the 17.9-percent strikeout rate (12th in the NL) is not typical for the Dodgers’ bullpen. In 2022, the relievers finished third-best in the league with a 26.7-percent strikeout rate. That’s a huge drop in strikeouts for the bullpen, and it’s something the Dodgers will have to keep their eye on as the season progresses.
After Thursday night’s game, manager Dave Roberts spoke about the Dodgers’ bullpen over the first week of the season with Jack Harris of the LA Times:
“We’re still trying to find our footing. I know it’s not about a role thing or where guys are pitching. I think individually, you can look at them and each guy is sort of trying to figure some things out. But, to their credit, they’re still being productive, and that’s most important right now.”
Roberts went on to say that Alex Vesia is “searching,” and Evan Phillips is working on some things mechanically. Vesia has allowed four runs on eight hits including a home run and two strikeouts in his three innings.
Perhaps Vesia is still adjusting to the pitch clock, but the usually dependable reliever hasn’t been as effective early on. In Thursday night’s 5-2 win over the Snakes, Vesia was able to only get one out and struggled, serving up one run on two hits to Arizona. He’s allowed runs in three of his four outings.
Phil Bickford has also struggled out of the gate, allowing two earned runs on four hits in 3 ⅓ innings. He’s struck out seven, the highest amongst the Dodgers’ relievers.
Yency Almonte is another relief arm that hasn’t looked the sharpest so far. He’s allowed three runs on five hits with only one strikeout in 3 ⅓ innings.
Whatever Phillips is working on, it’s been effective so far. The right-hander has allowed one hit in three innings and has already collected two saves. Caleb Ferguson has pitched three innings of scoreless ball as well.
It’s very early in the season, but the Dodgers’ bullpen is an area of the team that should certainly be monitored. Without a designated closer (at least officially), the bullpen roles aren’t as cemented in as seasons past. This should allow Roberts to use Phillips in high-leverage situations.
Despite Tony Gonsolin landing on the injured list to start the season and the unfortunate timing of Ryan Pepiot’s injury, the Dodgers’ starters have been very good. The hiccups of some of the relief arms have been absorbed, because the rotation has made quality starts.
The Dodgers’ bullpen is a work-in-progress, but they have time to figure things out.