Answers are no closer in unsettled bullpen
Sometimes things go exactly as hoped, and sometimes they just zigzag all over. Left behind is a puzzle with very uncertain pieces.
Of all the issues the Dodgers faced this off-season, closer was one they figured was covered. Then on the eve of camp, Kenley Jansen was unexpectedly lost for up to 12 weeks after foot surgery.
The Dodgers had six weeks of camp and ample replacement candidates, and the hope was one would separate himself and win the interim closer’s job.
But with the Dodgers opening the season Monday, they remain very much a team without a closer. They remain a team without a designated eighth-inning guy. And even a team without a set bullpen.
That’s a lot of uncertainty for a team with championship aspirations. Don Mattingly is a manager who strongly prefers to use players in set roles, but with the opener three days away he has no announced bullpen plan.
“We’ll just play it out,” Mattingly said. “You have to stay tuned. It’s fluid.”
For the most part, the Dodgers’ veteran relievers have struggled this spring while several young arms have been impressive. Impressive in a spring training game, of course, and impressive playing in a major league stadium in front of 40,000 people are not always the same thing.
Though none has had a strong spring, veterans J.P. Howell (8.22 earned-run average), Joel Peralta (4.32) and Chris Hatcher (6.23) are expected to make the 25-man roster and, it’s assumed, so will Juan Nicasio (6.75), who is out of options. Paco Rodriguez has not allowed a run in 11 appearances and appears to have won a spot.
And then there are young arms Yimi Garcia (0.79 ERA, 15 strikeouts in 10 1 ⁄ 3 innings), Adam Liberatore (no runs in 11 games) and Pedro Baez (5.40), who in this tight competition might have pitched himself off the team Friday when he surrendered a grand slam to Albert Pujols in the fifth inning of the Angels’ 6-0 Freeway Series win over the Dodgers at Angel Stadium.
Veterans Sergio Santos (4.66), David Aardsma (2.00) and David Huff (1.50) also are battling for two spots.
But is there a closer in the house?
“I just don’t think it’s that important,” said General Manager Farhan Zaidi . “That plays itself out over the course of the season.”
Some had hoped Santos, a former Chicago White Sox closer, would step up and win the spot but he’s been told he will not make the opening-day roster, according to a person familiar with the situation. He will be sent to triple-A Oklahoma City but can opt out of his contract by May 1 if he’s still not on the 25-man roster.
Mattingly said without a set closer, the ninth inning will become situational. And his bullpen will probably have two left-handers (Howell, Rodriguez) and possibly three (Huff or Liberatore). “I’m OK with seven lefties if they get outs,” Mattingly said. Two-man job?
Mattingly said Scott Van Slyke was in left field Friday night in place of Carl Crawford because left-hander Andrew Heaney started for the Angels. And something of a semi-regular platoon might be in the works.
“It could be,” Mattingly said. “Van Slyke’s gonna play. There are going to be times he’ll play out there [in left], there will be times he’ll be able to give Adrian [ Gonzalez ]a day [at first base]. But Carl hit lefties pretty good last year so I can’t say that I want to just flat out do it.”
Crawford batted .321 against left-handers in 2014. Line drives
Veteran right-hander Scott Baker agreed to a minor league deal, a source familiar with the situation said, but still has to pass a physical. ... Yasiel Puig and Howie Kendrick were in the lineup after Thursday’s outfield collision. . . . Andre Ethier reported no problems after playing Thursday, his first game since a pitch hit him on the right elbow Tuesday.