Dodgers are counting on new relieving corps to cut down on walks

Dodgers want to have a balanced bullpen

When Kenley Jansen reports to spring training next week with the Dodgers' pitchers and catchers, there's a chance he won't know the player with the next-door locker.

"All these guys are new to me," Jansen said, "so I have to get to know them when I get to training camp."

So will the fans.

The Dodgers bullpen last year consisted of big-name relievers with star-studded resumes, among them Brian Wilson and Chris Perez. However, the team's new front-office executives have taken a new approach in rebuilding what was a weak unit.

Wilson and Perez are no longer with the team, replaced by lesser-known relievers such as Joel Peralta, Chris Hatcher, Juan Nicasio and Adam Liberatore, who were acquired in trades. The newcomers might not have any All-Star appearances to their names, but the Dodgers are hopeful they will be more effective.

"The one characteristic we value the most is the ability to miss bats," said Andrew Friedman, the team's president of baseball operations. "When you can do that while limiting walks, it makes it that much more difficult for the other team to score."

Dodgers relievers averaged 3.79 walks per nine innings last year, fourth-highest in the major leagues. The group's strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.25 was sixth-worst, resulting in a bullpen earned-run average of 3.80, 22nd in the majors and the highest among the five National League playoff teams.

Wilson, who had been expected to shut down the eighth inning, had a 4.66 ERA and walked an average of 5.54 batters per nine innings. Perez, who had a 4.27 ERA, walked 4.9 batters per nine innings.

The Dodgers released Wilson in December, even though they are obligated to pay him $9.5 million for the upcoming season. They also made no attempt to re-sign Perez, who landed with the Milwaukee Brewers on a minor league deal.

Peralta had an ERA of 4.41 last season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Friedman's former team. But he walked only 2.1 batters per nine innings and his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.93 ranked 18th in the major leagues among qualifying relievers.

Hatcher, a hard-throwing converted catcher, had similar numbers, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.00 for the Miami Marlins.

Nicasio is a longtime starter the Dodgers will attempt to turn into a full-time reliever. His statistical splits offer hope. As a starter with the Colorado Rockies last season, he averaged 3.2 walks per nine innings. But in 20 2/3 innings as a reliever, that number dipped to 2.2.

Liberatore, a former Tampa Bay farmhand, has never pitched in the major leagues, but had a promising strikeout-to-walks ratio of 5.73-1 in triple A.

Liberatore pitches left-handed and will compete with Paco Rodriguez, Daniel Coulombe and non-roster pitcher David Huff to be the second left-hander in the bullpen alongside J.P. Howell. That would present Manager Don Mattingly with options he didn't have for most of last season, when Howell was the only left-hander in the bullpen.

"We like to diversify the looks we have in the bullpen — balance right-handed and left-handed options, guys that can put the ball on the ground," Friedman said.

Brandon League, a ground ball pitcher who had something of a bounce-back season last season, will return for the final guaranteed year of his three-year, $22.5-million deal.

Other options include Pedro Baez and Yimi Garcia, a couple of hard throwers who showed promise as rookies last year.

Baez and Garcia are options for the place vacated by Chris Withrow, who could sit out the season as he recovers from back and elbow operations.

Withrow, 25, was a significant part of the Dodgers bullpen in 2013, when he posted a 2.60 ERA in 26 games. He had a 0.95 ERA until May 17, when he was charged with five runs in a loss at Arizona. By the end of the month, the Dodgers determined he should undergo Tommy John surgery.

Withrow went to Arizona in November to start a throwing program. There, he underwent an examination on his back, which was a source of discomfort in the past. He was diagnosed with a herniated disk and underwent another surgical procedure.

Before the back surgery, the Dodgers thought Withrow could return some time near the end of the season.

Now that's in question.

"I'm assuming that's best-case scenario," Withrow said.


A look at where the Dodgers' bullpen ranked among the 30 MLB teams last season:

Category: Number (Rank)

Earned-run average: 3.80 (22)

Saves: 47 (8)

Blown saves: 14 (25)

Losses: 24 (T-14)

Holds: 89 (5)

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times