MIAMI -- His Los Angeles Dodgers teammates may not have the confidence to stand next to Brett Anderson just yet out of fear a meteor might land on them. But little by little, the 27-year-old injury-ravaged left-hander is showing the baseball world 2015 might finally be his season.
Friday, Anderson delivered another gem for the Dodgers, striking out 10 over seven innings in a 7-1 win over the Miami Marlins. Even Anderson was afraid to call it what it was: the kind of effort those other two L.A. aces named Kershaw and Greinke are known for.
Since he finished April 1-1 with a 5.49 ERA, Anderson has gone 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA, providing the lift Dodgers management was sorely looking for after the losses of Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu to season-ending injuries.
With Dodgers relievers having worked 8 1/3 innings in their two previous games in Chicago, it was also a welcome relief in the short-term, manager Don Mattingly said.
“He's kind of become what Ryu was for us last year -- that third kind of cog in the wheel that is consistently giving you good outings,” Mattingly said. “You're starting to count on it and feel like he can pitch good against anybody."
Counted on? Anderson has been anything but since going 18-17 with a 3.57 ERA in his first two seasons in Oakland. He was sidelined three times because of left elbow issues before it eventually led to Tommy John surgery in 2011. After that, he strained a muscle in his side, broke a bone in his pitching hand swinging a bat, and spent time on the disabled list because he twisted an ankle throwing a pitch. And then, last August, he underwent another season-ending surgery for a herniated disk in his lower back.
But since spending much of the winter in Arizona working with the same man who helped Randy Johnson win four Cy Young awards after his back surgery -- and signing an incentive-laden contract worth at least $10 million to be the Dodgers’ fifth starter -- Anderson has suddenly become Mr. Dependable.
Friday night, he got stronger and stronger as the game went on and ended his night by striking out four batters in a row, including Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Not bad for a guy known as a ground ball pitcher.
"Yeah, I felt like I struck out 30 compared to what I've been doing,” Anderson said. "My stuff was probably the best overall it's been -- sinker, some strikeouts with my slider, which hasn't been there. I was able to do that, especially to Stanton and some other guys. Like I kept telling people, I think I'm a good pitcher. I know I'm a good pitcher and I can get people out when I'm able to go out there and stay healthy. It's kind of proven true to this point."
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman made it pretty clear earlier this week in Chicago that his focus will be to add starting pitching before the July 31 trade deadline. But if Anderson can stay healthy the rest of the way, that’s one less problem for Friedman to worry about.
As good as things are going, though, Anderson knows bad luck can strike quickly. So does Mattingly.
But so far, Anderson’s teammates see plenty they like.
“[Anderson’s] stuff was really sharp at the end,” catcher A.J. Ellis said of Friday’s start. “I think he's shown it all year. It's not just with the way he's pitching and finishing his outings. It's the way he's shaking off the little nagging things, comebackers, weird stuff that tends to find him.
“I always tell him I'm never going to stand next to him during batting practice because I don't know what's going to happen. Things just seem to find him. But he's been physically and mentally tough as anybody we've had on our team. He's a joy to work with and we had a fun game."
As Mattingly said, a healthy Anderson could be huge for this team come October.
Friday, the initial plan in the seventh was to let Anderson face just two batters. “But he was good,” Mattingly said.
So far, Anderson has been better than anyone expected.