SAN FRANCISCO -- Nothing gets a manager second-guessed more than his use of the bullpen, especially on a nightly basis, when late-inning choices are magnified because of their impact on a game.
When taking a simplified look in that area, the performance of the Dodgers’ bullpen would seem to suggest that Dave Roberts is coming into his own in his first season as a major league manager.
In April, the Los Angeles Dodgers struggled for consistency in the relief department as Roberts tried to set roles for everybody. The bullpen posted a 3.84 ERA in the season’s opening month, as Roberts' plan of using Chris Hatcher as his set-up man failed to take hold.
After moving around his chess pieces in May, Roberts found a little more consistency from his relievers that showed up in a 2.98 ERA that was a much-improved sixth-best in baseball.
“I think it’s one of those thing that they have bought in, and I have also learned them more in the sense of not having dedicated roles, but putting them in the best position to have success, whether it’s the fifth, six, seventh, eighth inning,” Roberts said. “Outside of Kenley [Jansen], they have all moved around. I think that has played some part into their success.”
Pedro Baez now handles the bulk of the chances in the eighth inning. J.P. Howell is much improved from his slow start and Adam Liberatore, who did not make the club out of spring training, has proven to be a solid left-handed complement to Howell.
Joe Blanton and Louis Coleman have proved to be dependable in earlier innings, with Blanton able to handle more than an inning of work. Casey Fien has been a revelation after being claimed from the Minnesota Twins.
June is barely a week and a half old, but more improvement is being shown by the Dodgers’ bullpen. The group’s 1.63 ERA so far in the season’s third month is the best in the major leagues heading into play Saturday.
So does Roberts agree with the concept that the bullpen’s improvement is a sign of how he is settling in as a manager?
“I think that is fair, but I think it is the everyday conversation that every manager should have with players,” Roberts said.
Every single game day, Roberts said he has at least one conversation with every player on the 25-man roster. He would like to think that's as much responsible for any areas of improvement than simply pulling the proper strings at the right time.
“I put a hand on every single guy; literally, I do,” Roberts said. “I am not a big meeting guy. I think that people appreciate conversations and I think that this game is a team, but I think it is still individualized in the sense that everyone has their certain roles or expectations I have, or the organization has for each player. And I think that the individual conversations have more impact than the team meeting for me.”
Perhaps at one point Roberts will set black-and-white roles for relievers other than Jansen, but for now he won’t mess with what has been working.
“You can point to managing the bullpen as something that is not necessarily trial and error, but getting more comfortable or being up for the challenge,” Roberts said. “But I think it’s honestly it speaks to me getting to know every player in whatever role.”