Dodgers bullpen stays in lockdown mode

Dodgers bullpen stays in lockdown mode
Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell lands on home plate and prepares to tag out Diamondbacks catcher Jordan Pacheco after an errant pitch in the 13th inning Sunday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

J.P. Howell laughed as he thought about how he extended the Dodgers bullpen's scoreless streak Sunday.

"Lucky," Howell said.


Manager Don Mattingly had a similar reaction.

"Crazy," Mattingly said.

With a behind-the-back tag on Jordan Pacheco at home plate, Howell prevented the Arizona Diamondbacks from scoring a go-ahead run on a ball in the dirt that bounced away from catcher Yasmani Grandal in the 13th inning. Grandal hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the inning, elevating the first-place Dodgers to a 1-0 victory and completing a three-game sweep.

The Dodgers improved to 13-2 at Dodger Stadium and 16-8 overall.

The scoreless inning pitched by Howell was the seventh of the game by the Dodgers bullpen, which has a scoreless streak of 26 innings.

"It keeps momentum rolling in the right direction," Howell said.

With closer Kenley Jansen recovering from a foot operation, the Dodgers relievers have a combined earned-run average of 1.81, second-best in the National League to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Howell said he was uncertain of how the group would perform without Jansen, who underwent surgery shortly before the start of spring training.

"You didn't know what was going to happen," Howell said. "New guys, new faces. You didn't know if the experience was there."

But the group of unknowns is looking superior to the collection of former All-Stars the Dodgers had in their bullpen last season, including the since-departed Brian Wilson and Chris Perez.

Of the seven relievers who pitched Sunday, the first three were particularly inexperienced: Pedro Baez, Adam Liberatore and Yimi Garcia.

Baez had pitched in only 17 major league games before this season and Garcia in eight. Liberatore is a rookie.

Baez, who replaced starter Brett Anderson and struck out the side in the seventh inning, has a 2.45 ERA. Liberatore has not given up a run. Garcia has a 0.66 ERA.

"They obviously have a lot of courage and they work really hard," Howell said.


Sergio Santos, who once saved 30 games for the Chicago White Sox, and left-hander Paco Rodriguez combined to pitch a scoreless 10th inning. Rodriguez also pitched the 11th.

Juan Nicasio came back from a three-inning appearance Saturday night to pitch the 12th inning.

Howell retired the first two batters he faced in the 13th inning, but gave up consecutive singles to Pacheco and Aaron Hill to put runners at the corners. With Cliff Pennington at the plate, Howell threw a slider that bounced and struck Grandal on the arm. As Grandal scampered to retrieve the baseball, Howell ran to cover home. Receiving an underhand toss from Grandal with his back to third base, Howell sat on the plate and reached back with his glove hand, which happened to touch a sliding Pacheco.

"A great feed from Yas," Howell said.

The triumph made Grandal reflect back to the second game of the season, when right-hander Chris Hatcher imploded in a loss to the San Diego Padres. The defeat was followed by questions about the Dodgers bullpen.

Grandal said he was certain the group was better than it looked that night. He played last season with the Padres, who had the lowest bullpen ERA in the NL.

"Just catching bullpens, you're seeing the stuff they have," he said. "I haven't been around for long, but, obviously, I've seen talent. I had a really good bullpen in San Diego, so I kind of know what we have just by looking around and seeing what we have."

Grandal said the bullpen should improve even more when Jansen returns. Jansen pitched the second game of his minor league rehabilitation assignment with Class-A Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday and could return to the Dodgers in the next couple of weeks.