For a reliever who had a bad start to a season, it’s sometimes too hard to improve those numbers into acceptable territory, no matter how well you pitch after that. There just aren’t enough innings in a season.
Yency Almonte was trying to buck that trend. One of last season’s most trusted reliever had a terrible first two months of 2023, and on June 14 he had a 6.75 ERA, with a 5.48 FIP. Then he went six weeks without allowing an earned run. He did allow three unearned runs, but was still solid in those 15 games and 14⅔ innings, striking out 18 (a third of his batters faced) against only three walks, and he stranded all six inherited runners. Things were looking up.
But Almonte had two blow-up outings in his last three appearances, one on July 28 at home against the Reds, walking two unintentionally, one intentionally, and hitting a batter in a three-run inning that only saw him record one out.
He had another one on Saturday against the Padres in San Diego, entering the eighth inning with a 3-1 lead but retired only one of his four batters faced, leaving with the bases loaded and one out. The inning turned disastrous after Caleb Ferguson entered, exacerbated by two errors, one by Ferguson himself and another by Kiké Hernández at second base. San Diego scored seven runs in the inning.
Immediately after the game isn’t always the place to get measured reactions, and sometimes the heat of the moment makes someone say things they might regret, especially after a loss. But I was struck with how exasperated manager Dave Roberts sounded in talking with reporters from the visiting manager’s office at Petco Park, especially at the start of this video.
“With Yency, I don’t really have a good answer. He just wasn’t good,” Roberts said, as shown on SportsNet LA. “The 0-2 ball that was up to [Gary] Sanchez, then running a 3-2 count and throwing a non-competitive pitch to [Ha-Seong] Kim, then he walks [Fernando] Tatis [Jr.]. He just completely lost command. It just wasn’t a good one.”
Roberts doesn’t really rip players, it’s just not his style. But this is about as harsh as he’ll criticize a player publicly.
It’s not quite to the level of in 2021, when Sheldon Neuse was a statue in receiving a throw at second base in the ninth inning that could have won a game against the Giants. After the game, Roberts said, “That play at second base, if we stretch, the game’s over.”
Neuse played three more games with the Dodgers before getting banished to the minors, never to be heard from again.
Almonte has more cachet built up than Neuse did, after last year’s 1.02 ERA and 3.01 xERA, eating up high-leverage innings. This year, Almonte has a 5.36 ERA and 4.41 xERA. It’s the second-worst ERA among active relievers in the Dodgers bullpen (behind Alex Vesia, who is on his own comeback-from-hell upswing) and the worst xERA.
As for Almonte’s role in said bullpen, Roberts also said this after Saturday’s game, from Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times:
“It’s pretty easy in my chair,” Roberts said. “You give guys opportunities, and they play themselves into their own roles. I’ll leave it at that.”
As for what the Dodgers can do in the meantime, there’s no real cavalry on the way. Joe Kelly was the only reliever acquired at the trade deadline, so this bullpen pretty much is what it is for the foreseeable future. Shelby Miller started a rehab assignment on Saturday, but he’s on the 60-day injured list and won’t be back for another two weeks at least.
In the short term, Clayton Kershaw will need to be activated, presumably this week in Arizona, and a pitcher will need to be sent down. Almonte is out of options, so they’d have to designate him for assignment if they decide to cut bait. Michael Grove (6.61 ERA, 5.32 xERA) seems like the more likely choice to get optioned, even though he’s looked at his best in his two short appearances, including striking out four of five batters on Saturday.
But it’s pretty clear that for now, whether he’s on the roster or not, Almonte isn’t likely to see high-leverage relief work for a little while.