Dodgers see rapid progress from RP Baez

LOS ANGELES -- Earlier this month, the hardest-throwing reliever in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bullpen faced Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton and emerged unscathed. Two days later, he went through Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez and, again, got through a scoreless inning.

And, as often happens to young players, he was packing his bags for Triple-A Albuquerque two days after that, optioned to make room for newly acquired veteran Kevin Correia. But on his way out the door, Pedro Baez accomplished something. He left his most indelible impression yet on Dodgers’ decision makers, who have been searching far and wide for solutions to the team’s porous relief all season.

Maybe the solution was right under their noses.

“When a young guy like him comes up here and has success, sometimes he starts to think, 'I can do this,' " Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Now, all of a sudden, he’s pitching with purpose.”

The Dodgers have seen rapid progress from Baez, whose fastball routinely touches 98 and 99 mph. He had one rocky outing back in May. Since then, he has pitched eight scoreless innings, opponents batting .148 off him.

As Mattingly said, Baez, 26, still needs to develop another pitch to complement his fastball, “something that’s soft and goes down.”

But the Dodgers have grown more and more excited about his upside, as he has demonstrated his ability to pitch at this level. Two years ago, Baez was still a third baseman. He batted .221 between Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Chattanooga in 2012 before the Dodgers decided to turn him into a pitcher.

“Just keep giving him bites. We’re going to need guys as we go,” Mattingly said. “He’s growing up, he’s getting better. I think he’s going to be a piece for us in the future.”

Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon played alongside Baez in rookie ball and at Rancho Cucamonga.

“He was a really good third baseman. He just couldn’t hit for nothing,” Gordon said.

Baez appears to have found his niche. Now, it’s just a matter of digging in.