Yesterday, e-6 and Hawkeye were commenting on the relief pitching (or maybe lack thereof) that seems to be coming to LA this upcoming week. When I thought there were going to be only 7 relievers I listed Kenley, Alexander, Baez, Cingrani, Fields, Stripling, and Chargois as the 7. Now that it is back to 8 (at least for right now), I agree with Ken Gurnick that Font will be #8.
This off-season, FAZ’s 2 big acquisitions were for relief pitching; Tom Koehler (FA) as the heir apparent to Joe Blanton and Brandon Morrow, and Scott Alexander via trade for fan favorite Trevor Oaks, and Luis Avilan. IMO Kemp was a salary dump acquisition, and even FAZ did not believe he would be on the team come March 29, so I choose to make my literary prerogative and exclude that transaction in this discussion.
When e-6 commented that he was not excited about Scott Alexander, I chuckled and agreed saying to myself (I do that a lot), that I have not been excited for the last 3-4 games with him. Alexander is a supposed ground ball specialist but he is giving up a lot of batted balls with air underneath them. In his last outing against the Angels, in his 1 inning he gave up 2 line drives (1 for an out and 1 for a double), 2 K’s, and the one ground ball that he did get was a RBI single by Mike Trout. It wasn’t that Trout got an RBI single, as he will do that against the best of MLB pitchers all year, but it was that there was not a single ground ball out. He was so consistent with his ground ball outs last year that I am hoping that come Thursday, he finds that groundball pitch again. Or maybe 2017 was the outlier. Right now, I do not see an upgrade of Alexander over Avilan, much less throw in Oaks to complete the transaction. I am comfortable with waiting for the regular season to see if things get better for the newcomer. Changing teams is not always easy.
This discussion about the lack of relief pitching has been so prevalent for the last few years. How long have Dodger fans lamented about the lack of that lock down 8thinning guy? The Dodgers did not have that guy two years ago, and yet Joe Blanton assumed that role and was fairly good until he tired in the playoffs. Same thing last year, until FAZ finally listened to me and brought Brandon Morrow up to finally take that role, and he excelled. This year who is going to assume that role? I believe the thinking was that FAZ could catch lighting in a bottle again with Tom Koehler. He still may be, but not until he is healthy. I know there are many on here (and throughout the Dodger blogs) that have less than zero confidence in Koehler. But many had that same confidence level in both Blanton and Morrow.
Of course there were many nay-sayers about Andrew Miller until Tito Francona told him to go into the bullpen and prepare to be a multi-inning reliever because he was no longer a MLB starting pitcher. Miller had only 1 believer in him (outside of his family), and that was Tito Francona. I am not ready to anoint Ross Stripling as the next Andrew Miller, but he has shown that he can come in to non-closing high leverage situations and shut down an opponent. Just like Miller, Stripling will not be a lock down 8thinning setup guy. But maybe he is the guy to come into the 5thor 6thinning, stop a rally, pitch another inning, and turn it over to the late inning relievers. Reading comments from fans about Stripling (mostly on other sites) I know I am in the minority, but I like Ross Stripling, and I think he can be a very effective reliever. Many harken back to Ross’ MLB debut when he took a no-no into the 8thagainst the Giants before he was taken out and Chris Hatcher blew yet another save. The Dodgers went on to lose that game, but Ross Stripling came of age. However, I choose to think back to April 7, 2017 in Colorado. The Rockies had just gone ahead of the Dodgers 2-1 in the 5thand with runners on 1stand 3rdand Nolan Arenado coming up, Doc took Ryu out and brought in Stripling. Stripling went on to completely overwhelm Arenado and strike him out with a high fastball. Stripling then went on to pitch the 6th, and retire the side in order, but the Dodgers could not come back and lost the game 2-1. That is where I think Ross Stripling has value.
I also do not share the disdain (by many) for Josh Fields. In 3 ST games he has pitched 3 perfect innings with 2 K’s. Yes I know very small sample size. But last year, Josh was 5-0 in 57 IP with a .965 WHIP, 15 BB and 60K. His one problem was the 10 HR’s he allowed. I think a lot of pitchers had that problem last year (right Clayton?). But looking at it in more detail, five of those HR’s came in six games in June when he was just plain bad. But before and after June he was very good. He allowed 0 HR’s in April (9 games), 1 in May (12 games), 1 in July (10 games), 1 in August (10 games), and 2 in September (10 games). The 2 in September came on September 4, a 13-0 blowout from the DBacks. We all remember that time of year when all of the Dodgers were bad. Following that September 4 game, Fields pitched 9 additional games with 9 IP, allowed 1 ER on 5 hits, 1 walk, and 10 K’s. I know it is not perfect as some fans insist on, but I would be happy with a pitcher who did that in September. Not every reliever has to be the 2016 version of Zach Britton.
I am also pretty high on J. T. Chargois who is finally healthy. I do not believe there was a GM in MLB who did not believe in J.T.’s arm or ability to pitch. His ability to stay healthy? …yes. Sound familiar Brandon Morrow? In 8 ST games, he has 8 IP, has allowed 2 hits and 1 run, with 3 BB and 10K, and a .625 WHIP. No he is not Kenley, but what has he done this Spring to not show at least some confidence in him?
Tony Cingrani seems to pitch himself into trouble this Spring, but then pitch himself out of it. I still believe that Tony is a legit LHRP, and will be very effective (especially against LH hitters) this year.
The two that are questionable are Pedro Baez and Wilmer Font (which disappoints me). I have less than zero confidence in Pedro Baez, and I only remain hopeful that Font can show at the ML level what he did at AAA, and what Matt Herges saw in him. Maybe he is another Chris Hatcher. He will have a very short leash with Pat Venditte, Yimi Garcia, Adam Liberatore, Edward Paredes, and Joe Broussard all chomping at the bit in OKC. I do not know why 1-Pitch Baez continues to get looks. In 6.2 IP this Spring, he has 1 BB. Normally that is reason to cheer. But when all you have is one pitch, and it is always around the plate, what ML hitter wouldn’t want to face him.
The one thing I have learned about FAZ is that they will tinker with the bullpen until they are happy with it. Maybe that will take until June. But just like the sun comes up in the East, Dodger fans will bitch and moan about the relief pitching in April, and by the summer will finally stop complaining out loud.
One final thought…Mark and I have consistently urged for the Dodgers to shake some sense into Brock Stewart and permanently move him to the pen. Maybe the best thing for Stewart is to get traded to Cleveland so Tito can give him that Andrew Miller speech.