The number of days until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in Camelback Ranch-Glendale, Arizona happens to be the same number which adorns the jersey of our ace Clayton Kershaw: 22. 22 days until we get the first taste of Dodger Blue on the field. One aspect of the team which is beginning to look downright delightful is the projected bullpen. The Dodger bullpen has the chance to shape up to be one of the best in the League. Yes, a lot of expectations are riding on the newly signed Dodger closer Brandon League. Let’s take a glance at the current bullpen members and who may squeak in to win a spot on the roster.
Ronald Belisario just garnered a one-year $1.4 million deal for 2013. The comeback player of the year last season for the Dodgers deserved this pay bump after he put in an impressive performance out of the Dodger pen as a set-up man. After not pitching at all in 2011 due to drug abuse problems and VISA issues, Belisario worked hard to win back a spot on the Dodgers right out of the gate in Spring Training last year. With a 8-1 record, 2.54 ERA, 69 strikeouts, and 8.7 SO/9 over 71 innings pitched last year, Beli’s nasty sinker was a weapon of mass destruction. The Dodgers will be looking for a repeat performance out of the 30-year old right-hander in 2013.
Kenley Jansen is good. No, I mean Kenley Jansen is very good. After taking over closing duties from Javy Guerra (who should not have been closing in the first place), Jansen was one of the best relief pitchers in the league. Even though he essentially lost his job once he lost time due to a reoccurrence of his heart condition and Brandon League was acquired from Seattle, there’s no doubt that Jansen could be the Dodger closer any day of the week. The 25-year old converted catcher from Curacao went 5-3 with a 2.22 ERA, 99 strikeouts, just 22 walks, and a 13.7 SO/9 over 65 innings. Reading those numbers again makes me salivate. Kenley underwent heart surgery this offseason to correct his abnormal heartbeat, and he should be 100% for Spring. The Dodgers will use him in the eighth inning to set-up Brandon League, but I would like to see him utilized in those high leverage game-on-the-line situations.
Brandon League is the new closer for Los Angeles, and the Dodgers just inked the heavily inked pitcher to a four-year $27.5 million contract with a vesting option for 2016. After falling out of favor in Seattle, Rick Honeycutt worked his magic with the 29-year old righty to fix some mechanical flaws. Once the kinks were ironed out, League pitched very well in the later part of the season for the Dodgers in the ninth inning. He had a record of 2-1 with a 2.30 ERA, 27 strikeouts, and a 8.9 SO/9 with the Dodgers in 28 games. The Dodgers will be hoping that League can be the Big Kahuna on the mound in 2013 and beyond. If he should struggle, they could always slot Jansen back in for closing duties.
J.P. Howell is the new kid on the block, and he will be looked to when a left-handed pitcher is needed out the bullpen. After pitching with Tampa Bay since 2006, Howell has had some injury issues in the past which forced him to miss the entire 2010 season after succumbing to shoulder surgery. Last season as a Ray, he had a 3.04 ERA, 42 strikeouts and 22 walks in 50 1/3 innings pitched. He throws a sinker, a knuckle-curve, and a changeup.
Scott Elbert is another lefty the Dodgers will have at their disposal out of the bullpen. Elbert had to have elbow surgery, and he was limited to 32 2/3 innings of work last season. He did finish with a 2.20 ERA with a 8.0 SO/9. When healthy and in control, Elbert can be very effective.
Paco Rodriguez is the most intriguing southpaw for the Dodgers out of the bunch. A 2012 draft selection in the second round out of the University of Florida, Paco was the first out of his draft class to reach the Major League level. The 21-year old impressed in his September call-up, and his 1.35 ERA and 6 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings of work was very promising. I wouldn’t be surprised if Paco makes the squad out of Spring Training, and although he barely got his feet wet last year, there is something special in the making for the top Dodger prospect.
Javy Guerra started the 2012 season so well, but things quickly spiraled downward after he was hit in the face by that Brian McCann ball. He had saved seven of his first eight opportunities, but it was not too be for Guerra. After blowing saves and pitching poorly, Kenley Jansen stepped in to take over closing duties. He was demoted to AAA in August, and he later suffered an oblique tear which essentially ended his season. Guerra also underwent shoulder surgery last November, which was his third surgery in 2012. He appeared in 45 games for the Dodgers in 2012, with a 2-3 record, 2.60 ERA, and 8 saves. We cannot forget the performance Javy gave the Dodgers back in 2011 after Jonathan Broxton melted down. Guerra went on to collect 21 saves with a 2.31 ERA as fill-in closer that season. Guerra is expected to be healthy for Spring Training, and he will be vying for a spot on the bullpen.
Shawn Tolleson made his MLB debut with the Dodgers last June, and the 25-year old right-hander had some rookie hiccups, but his future looks bright. Tolleson ended up pitching in 40 games with the Dodgers and finished up with a 4.30 ERA, 39 strikeouts, 20 walks, and a 9.3 SO/9. Tolleson should make the squad, and I hope that he does in favor of the next busted bullpen member….
Matt Guerrier is still on the team, sigh. Thankfully 2013 will be his last year on his contract. The 14 innings in which he pitched last season contained some of the most cringe-worthy pitching I may have ever seen.
Josh Wall appeared in seven games for the Dodgers in 2012 after debuting in July. He went 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA and 4 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. The 26-year old right-hander will be contending for a spot out of Spring Training as well. Matt Magill is a dark horse who may even see some time with the big club in 2013 if not out of Spring Training then later in the season.
As far as a long man, the Dodgers may not bring back Jamey Wright since I have not heard anything on that front. Possibilities include Ted Lilly out of the bullpen and even Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang if they aren’t traded by April.
The Dodgers will have a dominating 7-8-9 with Belisario, Jansen, and League. With a few more options as far as left-handed pitching next season, the Dodgers will be more versatile in that respect. Long relief may go to one of the surplus starters which may actually work out to their advantage. Overall, I see this projected bullpen much improved from last season.