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The Dodgers and the death of the middle reliever

They’re out there, somewhere. Lost in the bullpen weeds. Leaning back in a chair, eyes wandering.

Remember them? Forgotten as yesterday’s news. Several yesterdays.

Does Don Mattingly even remember who his middle relievers are?

“I think,” he said. “We had some. I could figure it out.”

Perhaps, given the opportunity. Alas, opportunity for the Dodgers' middle relievers — something of an oxymoron these days — is scarcer than a Hanley Ramirez sacrifice bunt.

The Dodgers’ starting pitchers are going so deep into games, the bullpen is seldom called upon until the seventh inning. Middle relievers are threatening to become a vanishing breed. The long man has become a lost term.

The Dodgers rotation this year is averaging over six innings per start. Their rotation leads the majors with a 3.04 earned-run average. The last time a Dodgers starter went less than five innings was Aug. 9.

“That’s fine with us,” said left-hander J.P. Howell.

Howell, apparently, is kind of a middle reliever. Truth is, that animal almost doesn’t currently exist with the Dodgers.

Kenley Jansen, seemingly growing more confidant and dominant with each appearance, is now the undisputed closer.

Ronald Belisario and Paco Rodriguez, and now Brian Wilson, are the eighth-inning guys. Everybody else is ready on board for whatever duty they are called upon – situational, one inning, and if ever needed again, multi-inning.

Carlos Marmol, Brandon League and Howell could pitch in the middle. Chris Withrow, who won’t rejoin the Dodgers until Tuesday, is their most likely candidate to go in early, if the occasion ever actually arises again.

Now there is also Edinson Volquez, who for at least September will figure in there somewhere. And as of Sunday, right-hander Peter Moylan has rejoined the team with the other September call-ups.

So many options, so many guys sitting around watching what may be baseball’s best rotation go deep into games.

Good thing the Dodgers have such a huge lead, at least it should provide Mattingly an opportunity to get them some work. If he can remember who they are.

 

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