I know the Dodgers just don’t have a very good bullpen this season, and Mattingly’s choices have been limited, but it’s not like the Dodgers don’t have any late inning weapons. Yes the Dodgers have had one of the worst relief corps in the National League. Yes the Dodger bullpen leads all of baseball with 17 losses, and ranks 26 with a 4.29 ERA, and has blown 15 save opportunities. That doesn’t mean the Dodgers don’t have any bullets.
The Dodgers have two options, maybe three in the late innings. It’s not much, but it’s something, and if used properly, you could win with that. Of course manager Don Mattingly can never get it right. I’ve been stressing proper bullpen usage for a long time now, it goes along way and helps tremendously. If used properly the Dodgers could have quite a few more wins on the board. It makes a huge difference. Case in point was, during last night’s 6-3 loss to San Diego.
The game was tied at 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh. The pop-gun offense was stagnant yet again, fortunately for the Dodgers, dependable Stephen Fife had kept them in the game by turning in another quality start, by tossing six innings and only allowing one earned run on four hits with six whiffs. Up to that point, Fife had only made 89 pitches. There was a scare earlier in the game where the Dodgers thought Fife had hurt himself but he was uninjured and stayed in the game.
Now it’s important to remember, the Dodgers have two, possibly three good pitchers in the bullpen, and the rest are garbage.
Kenley Jansen – 2.57 ERA 49 whiffs .214 BAA
Paco Rodriguez-3.20 ERA 27 whiffs .159 BAA
J.P. Howell 2.81 ERA 27 whiffs .205 BAA
There you are. That’s it. That’s the Dodger’s bullpen in 2013. They have Jansen, (who is now back as the closer), Paco, and J.P. Howell. That’s it. The rest of the guys are junk. You can’t trust any of the other guys with a lead or a tie late in a ball game. So it’s not hard to figure out the best way to use this bullpen is it? You have to use Jansen in the ninth, and Paco, and Howell in the seventh and eighth frames. If one of those three are unavailable and you have to mix in someone else, than you toss in Moylan, and you pray. There’s not much else you can do. But otherwise if you stick with those three above, you can probably get through most games. Extra inning games would be toast of course. What you do NOT do is, you do NOT under any circumstances use Brandon League, Matt Guerrier, or Ronald Belisario with the game on the line or during a tie game. We’ve been down this road way too many times, and know how it usually ends.
So what did Mattingly do yet again last night? He goes to one of his worst relievers in a tie game while the good three sat and watched from the bullpen. Since the Dodger bullpen is so thin, and lacking in power arms, you have to either give your starters a little more rope, or make sure you use those good three from the seventh inning on, or the game is blown. You sure as hell can’t bring in Belisario or League, when the league is hitting over .300 against both pitchers. And please never use Belisario with runners on base ever again.
Personally, I would have let Fife pitch another inning. I don’t know why the Dodgers are hell bent on never allowing Fife to make more than 90 pitches. Maybe it’s because of his shoulder problems earlier in the year? Either way if the Dodgers are unwilling to allow Fife to go over 90, then they’re going to have to be extra careful with the way the bullpen is handled, otherwise games are blown faster than you can say last place.
Getting back to last night, during the seventh inning with the score tied at 2-2, Mattingly chose poorly again, electing to bring in Matt Guerrier of all people. Guerrier pitched to only two hitters. He allowed a ground-rule double to Yasmani Grandal, and an RBI triple to rookie Pedro Ciriaco, which broke the tie giving San Diego a 3-2 lead. That was that. The tie was blown, in minutes. Boom. So out comes Mattingly again, to bring in lefty Paco Rodriguez. He probably should have had Paco start the inning instead of going to the eternally lousy Guerrier. In usual Mattingly style, he was far too late. Paco would allow an RBI single to Chase Headley, then Peter Moylan would come in and allow two more runs on a two-run home run from Ciriaco. The Dodgers would be unable to recover and went on to lose 6-3.
This isn’t brain surgery. Just use Jansen, Paco, and Howell late in games, and the Dodgers could end up winning some of those games. By not using terrible pitchers in high leverage situations, you put your team in a better position to win. A manager’s job is to not only put his team in the best position to win, his job is to win ball games, plain and simple. It shouldn’t take three months to figure this out.
I know Jansen, Paco, and Howell can’t pitch every game, and you would have to mix in Moylan occasionally, or perhaps even (lord help us), Belisario, but by using your best three relievers in the late innings of most of your games, you’re going to give your team a much better chance of winning.
When is Don Mattingly going to get this right? Or is he ever going to get it right?