LOS ANGELES -- Another day, another four innings from the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen, and the results keep getting better and better.
Already one of the most-used relief corps in baseball since the start of June, the late-inning Dodgers arms keep finding their way into games and aren’t really concerned if the trend continues. Those most recent four innings came to close out a 4-3 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday.
“We all know how early the (bullpen) phone is ringing, but the good thing about it is how all those guys’ character is,” said closer Kenley Jansen, who picked up his 26th save with a perfect ninth inning that he closed out with two strikeouts. “We never complain about anything. Whatever inning the phone rings certain guys just have to pitch. Guys don’t complain, they just want to win ballgames. That’s a good group of guys we have down there.”
Jansen might be an All-Star this season, but Adam Liberatore is a Dodgers record holder. The left-hander struck out both batters he faced to give him 24 consecutive scoreless outings this season, one better than John Candelaria’s franchise record.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal was the first to offer congratulations on the mound as Liberatore was pulled from the game in the eighth inning.
“He told me congrats, and I really didn’t know what he was talking about,” Liberatore said. “It seemed like a really weird thing to say in that situation. I’m getting pulled and the guy is saying congrats. I was like ‘What?’”
In the dugout, he soon learned what all the fuss was about, getting a game ball and the adoration from his teammates. The moment was made better for the Pittsburgh native when he learned of Candelaria’s involvement in the record.
“I know that name a little bit so that’s cool,” Liberatore said of the former Pirates and Dodgers pitcher.
If the Dodgers’ bullpen is supposed to collapse under the weight of its recent obligations, it hasn’t shown any cracks. In fact, the group seems to be getting stronger.
With Saturday’s four hitless innings, the Dodgers now have a 1.64 ERA over the first nine games of the season-long, 10-game homestand to end the first half. One more game to go, then manager Dave Roberts will get his bullpen the rest and hydration it needs at the All-Star break.
“It’s coming at a perfect time,” Roberts said of the four days off that are ahead for all but Jansen, who figures to pitch in the showcase game Tuesday.
It has been a unique turn of events that has led to the busy stretch for the relievers. A mix of young starters and players returning from injury have kept innings to a minimum for the rotation. Guys such as Ross Stripling and Julio Urias were held back because of their youth, and now Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu have been eased back into the staff. McCarthy started Saturday and allowed three runs on three hits over his five innings, limited to just 77 pitches.
“I know all of us would like to get deeper into games and it’s something we want,” McCarthy said. “There are a lot of guys dealing with a lot of different situations, so it’s not a group of five horses that are healthy, happy and have been here all year. It’s guys that are a little bit of hodge-podge, so it’s on all of us to get deeper into games. The bullpen has been outstanding in picking us up, but we need to do our share in the second half to make sure we take some of the load off them.”
It seems unlikely the bullpen can keep up this pace, so the rotation will have to do its part. The eventual return of Clayton Kershaw from the disabled list will help.
But then again, who would have thought the Dodgers would have reached the start of play Saturday with a National League-best 2.89 ERA after starting off the season so slowly?
“You can’t predict if the bullpen will be used heavily the rest of the way, but I think guys like Brandon and Hyun-Jin, they’re going to bounce back,” Jansen said. “They will build up, and when Kersh comes back, they will be built up. We have to stay positive. Those guys are going to step up, but at the same time we’re going to have to stay focused. Whatever happens, we’re going to have to be ready for it.”