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Ryan Yarbrough nets 3-inning save in Dodgers win over Brewers: ‘It’s a huge lift for all of us’

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Los Angeles Dodgers
“Three-inning saves are cool,” Ryan Yarbrough whispers to Will Smith, probably.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — In some ways, Bobby Miller and Ryan Yarbrough had similar outings in Tuesday night’s Dodgers win over the Brewers. Both pitchers allowed a hit to their first batter faced, who scored, and then nothing else the rest of the way.

Miller got the win with one of his best starts in the majors, retiring his final 18 batters faced after a walk that followed a first-pitch single in the first inning. Yarbrough allowed a home run to Carlos Santana that nearly cleared the left field pavilion, but then retired his final nine batters faced for a three-inning save, one of baseball’s wonderful quirky accomplishments.

The two pitchers went about things in different ways, of course. Miller was still hitting 100 mph in the sixth inning, while Yarbrough topped out at 88.5 mph on Tuesday night. That’s par for the course for the left-hander, who has thrown 927 pitches in 2023, only nine of them reaching 90 mph, topping out at 90.8.

Kiké Hernández, whose pinch-hit two-run single in the sixth inning broke the dam in the Dodgers’ five-run rally that helped facilitate the game conditions that led to Yarbrough getting a three-inning save, faced his current teammate often in 2021 and 2022 when Hernández was with the Red Sox and Yarbrough on the Rays. Hernández, whose bread and butter on offense is facing left-handed pitching, has five hits in 11 at-bats with a double against Yarbrough, but explained just how difficult he is to face.

“He’s a really uncomfortable at-bat. It’s funky, it’s coming from a weird angle, and he’s got plus-plus extension, so his 86 feels like it’s 93-94,” Hernández said. “He’s splitting the plate with his cutter and sinker, then he’s got the breaking ball and a changeup as well. He’s really tough on everybody, not just lefties but righties, too.”

Outside of Santana’s home run, which was blistered at roughly a million miles per hour off the bat, nobody else on the Brewers got real quality contact off of Yarbrough. Brian Anderson hit a ball 94.5 mph but straight into the air, to Mookie Betts in right field. None of the seven Brewers who put the ball into play against Yarbrough had an expected batting average above .100.

Tuesday was by no means a blowout. Santana’s home run made it a four-run game. This wasn’t so much a quirky three-inning save — like say, Andre Jackson closing out wins of 10-1 and 9-0 earlier this season — as it was a quality relief appearance.

Even eccentric three-inning saves have value, beyond the hilarity of someone getting a save in a 30-3 game, for instance, in that the traditional relievers all get a rest. Similarly, Yarbrough’s outing meant nobody else in the Dodgers bullpen needed to pitch on Tuesday. Coupled with Monday’s off day, that’s a two-day full reset, relief for the relievers, in a bullpen that lost both Yency Almonte and Joe Kelly to the injured list over the weekend.

Dodgers 3+ inning saves in 2023

Pitcher Date IP
Pitcher Date IP
Andre Jackson Apr 1 3
Andre Jackson Jun 10 3
Emmet Sheehan Aug 3 4
Ryan Yarbrough Aug 15 3

“You can look back at two weeks ago, when you’re trying to figure out ways to rest the bullpen guys and manage their workload. Now you get a guy like Yarbrough, who can get a three-inning save and be back online in four days,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s a huge lift for all of us, not only just our starters, but most importantly he’s a big boost to our ‘pen. He can start, he wants to start, but he’s all in on whatever we ask.”

It helps that Dodgers starters have a 2.19 ERA in August, fueling a 13-1 start to the month, and averaging 5.57 innings per game. That’s a stark improvement from July, when the rotation had its worst ERA (6.18) since World War II and averaged only 5.03 innings. That’s three fewer outs every two games the Dodgers bullpen hasn’t been asked to get so far this month.

Yarbrough’s three outings since he was acquired the Dodgers have been just about everything they could have hoped for from the left-hander. He allowed a run in 4⅓ innings on August 5 in San Diego, in a more traditional bulk role following an opener (which I counted among the “starters” numbers above), then last week followed Clayton Kershaw’s five-inning return with three scoreless innings of his own before Tuesday night’s three-inning save, the first of Yarbrough’s career.

Last Thursday’s relief outing for Yarbrough was a lot like Tuesday night, except the Dodgers didn’t stage a big rally before he entered the game. Against the Rockies, the Dodgers trailed until late, scoring single runs in the seventh and eighth to scratch together a win, which went to Yarbrough for his three scoreless innings.

Things need to go just right for a three-inning save. A team needs a lead, usually a big advantage, lest the traditional closer and high-leverage relievers be used later on, and there needs to be a pitcher stretched out enough who isn’t already in the rotation who can finish things off. Yarbrough fits that role like a glove.

“With the way this organization gets the most out of pitchers, in terms of utilizing pitches, I think he’s in the right place,” Hernández said of Yarbrough. “He’s going to be huge for us.”