LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers learned before they even got to spring training that their closer, Kenley Jansen, would miss about the first six weeks of the season. They hadn’t been in the desert long before they had a pretty good idea that veteran setup man Brandon League wasn’t going to be a factor for a while either -- maybe the entire season -- because of a troublesome right shoulder.
The sage of the bullpen, Joel Peralta, was the next to go, hitting the disabled list a few weeks ago with a pinched nerve in his upper back.
That left J.P. Howell surrounded by a bunch of fresh-faced, young pitchers when it came to protecting leads late in games. And the lack of seasoning couldn’t have been less relevant. Dodgers relievers came into Thursday night leading the National League in strikeouts and holding opposing batters to a .192 average. So much for the importance of veteran presence.
But things change, and this week has been another lesson in the vicissitudes of bullpen dynamics. Many of the same young pitchers who had held down the late innings so well for so long have shown signs of strain. One of those good young pitchers, Pedro Baez, went on the disabled list before Thursday's game with a strained chest muscle.
After Yimi Garcia gave up another crushing, late home run -- this one by Carlos Gonzalez in the ninth inning to hand the Dodgers a painful 5-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies -- it’s a good time for Jansen and, eventually, Peralta to step in and restore some order to things.
Jansen could be activated as soon as Friday.
“It’s been, obviously, really, really good up to this point, really almost dominating,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “That’s not a total surprise, because we had confidence in these guys’ abilities, but better than you would think with a lot of young guys and the way we looked out of spring training, having to piece things together.
“We’ve had a couple days where we’ve had some stuff go on, but it’s going to happen to every team.”
One could argue that the fault Thursday lay not with Garcia but with Mattingly for leaving him in to face the left-handed-hitting Gonzalez with four lefty relievers in the bullpen and one of them, Howell, getting warm.
Mattingly said he and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt viewed the ninth as “Yimi’s inning,” and he mentioned that several relievers were unavailable due to heavy workloads lately. What he didn’t say, but can be fairly easily extrapolated, is that Gonzalez hasn’t looked like the feared slugger of recent seasons after a litany of injuries. Gonzalez came into the game batting .188. He was hitting .208 against right-handers and .125 against lefties. Both of his home runs had come against righties. Now, make that all three.