On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Mike Bolsinger sat in a Dallas restaurant, with college football to keep his mind off his professional future.
The Arizona Diamondbacks had just cut him. The team with the worst pitching staff of any National League team that does not play at altitude had told him, sorry, pal, you're not good enough to pitch for us.
Not for a player. Just for a few bucks. And to a team with a starting rotation headed by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
That rotation now includes Bolsinger, after his third successful start in three tries. The Dodgers beat the Colorado Rockies, 1-0, on Sunday, with Bolsinger scattering three hits over six innings and three relievers no-hitting the Rockies the rest of the way. The Dodgers lead the National League West by 4 1/2 games, the largest cushion in the NL.
Closer Kenley Jansen, activated from the disabled list Friday after off-season foot surgery, got two pop flies and a strikeout to convert his first save opportunity in seven months.
"He's already had experience," said catcher Yasmani Grandal, whose two-out, fourth-inning single drove home the run. "We needed somebody with experience back there."
Bolsinger was 1-6 with a 5.50 earned-run average in 10 games for Arizona last season. In his first three games for the Dodgers, he is 2-0 with a 1.04 ERA.
Grandal faced Bolsinger last season and said the stuff is the same. The difference, Bolsinger said, is in the Dodgers' approach.
"I can't tell you how awesome it is here," he said.
The Dodgers did not remind him that his fastball does not hit 90 mph. They told him they liked the way he changed speeds, the spin rate of his curve ball, how he threw strikes and induced weak contact.
He cannot rely on his fastball, which he would rather throw with two strikes than on the first pitch. But, he says, he has enough natural movement on the pitch to avoid disaster.
"If you're throwing a straight fastball 84 mph, you're probably going to have a problem," he said with a smile.
Bolsinger noticed last year that he had unusual difficulty in the first two innings. With the Diamondbacks, he warmed up before the game, just as any other pitcher would. With the Dodgers, he warms up with purpose: pretending to pitch to each opposing batter using the game plan, working out of the windup and the stretch in throwing his 30 to 35 pitches.
"Basically, I'm throwing the first inning," he said.
He has worked on establishing what he calls a slow, loopy curve and a hard, tight curve. He wants to add a reliable change to his repertoire. He learned how Greg Maddux played catch with a purpose and tries to imitate that, so even a throwing session can be a learning session. He watched Dan Haren win with movement and location, not velocity.
"He's done that really well over his whole career," Bolsinger said. "That's what I'm trying to do."
Bolsinger might get back above 90 mph, but not by much. He said he threw 88-92 mph two or three years ago, before a sore shoulder. His off-season workouts were delayed by some sort of flu, he said, and he might still have an mph or two left to regain.
But he laughed when one reporter suggested that the Rockies' complaining about ball and strike calls Sunday meant that he had gotten into the heads of the other team.
"I don't think I throw hard enough to get in people's heads," he said, laughing.