It was the biggest failing of last year’s team and probably the biggest uncertainty of this year’s Dodgers squad.
To those who witnessed its struggles in the second half and meltdown in the playoffs, it brings a shudder. It received a much-needed makeover in the off-season. It is filled mostly with brand new relievers and relievers who made brief appearances last season.
With Kenley Jansen out until mid-May after foot surgery, it has neither a closer nor a designated eighth-inning man. It doesn’t really have a designated anything.
But in the season opener Monday against the Padres, who are thought to have one of baseball’s best bullpens, it was the Dodgers’ relievers who made the difference.
Yimi Garcia (a 24-year-old with eight previous games of experience), Joel Peralta (a veteran acquired in the off-season from Tampa Bay) and Chris Hatcher (a former catcher acquired from Miami who mostly served as a middle-innings guy) were all called upon, and all came through.
Garcia pitched a perfect seventh with two strikeouts. Peralta faced only three batters in the eighth. And after hitting his first batter, Hatcher shut down the Padres in the ninth to earn his first career save.
One little game, but one very nice start.
“Yimi Garcia was kind of the breakout star in spring training for us,” said catcher A.J. Ellis. “He just kind of picked up from where he left off at Camelback Ranch. We all know Joel Peralta is a big game pitcher. He’s been in all kinds of situations. To see Hatch on that first day in a save situation, kind of rebound from hitting the first guy to do what he does best, get those ground balls -- it was great and hopefully they can build on it.”
Dodgers Manager has avoided announcing roles for relievers and warned the building of this year’s bullpen will be an ongoing process. That has to start somewhere, and as starts go, Monday wasn’t bad.
“A day you go like that, you get confidence,” Peralta said. “You go in three innings and don’t give up [any] runs. That can settle a lot of bullpens.”
The Dodgers trailed 3-2 when Garcia came in to pitch the top of the seventh, striking out pinch-hitter Cory Spangenberg and Wil Myers. It was tied 3-3 when Peralta gave up a one-out single to Justin Upton but then got Will Middlebrooks to bounce into a double play.
The first thing Hatcher did was hit Jedd Gyorko with a pitch. He did not hit one batter last season in 56 innings.
“I was probably a little to geeked up, too excited,” Hatcher said.
“After I hit him, it settled me down. It sounds funny, but it kind of reminds you you’re still playing a game. You need to just relax and let your stuff happen and it will take care of itself.”
One game down, and the bullpen had held.
Follow Steve Dilbeck on Twitter @stevedilbeck