One by one, the candidates for the Dodgers bullpen trotted to the mound at Camelback Ranch. Josh Fields picked up four outs. Adam Liberatore struck out the only batter he faced. Chris Hatcher had an error made behind him, then got charged for four runs in the inning.
Little can be determined from one spring training game, this one a 13-7 victory over the Chicago White Sox, but each day provides more clarity on the composition of the relief corps. The Dodgers plan to carry seven relievers on opening day. Three of them are likely to be left-handers, including Liberatore, who last season set a franchise record for consecutive scoreless appearances before missing the playoffs due to elbow surgery.
Liberatore has yet to allow a run this spring. The Dodgers have been cautious about his usage, wary of placing excessive stress on his arm. Liberatore feels his arsenal can compare to the one he wielded in 2016.
"I'm feeling healthy and trying to keep making steps forward every time out," he said.
Liberatore would join Grant Dayton and Luis Avilan as the left-handers in the bullpen. Avilan uses a changeup that allows him to disarm right-handed hitters — he allowed a lower on-base-plus-slugging percentage against right-handed batters (.451) than left-handed batters (.519) in 2016. His versatility would allow the Dodgers to deploy Dayton and Liberatore almost exclusively as specialists.
After closer Kenley Jansen and setup man Sergio Romo, that leaves two openings. Ross Stripling could fill one as a long reliever. Fields, Hatcher and nonroster invitee Brandon Morrow appear in contention for the last spot. The best case for Hatcher might involve his lack of minor league options. He has a 10.50 earned-run average this spring after a rocky season in 2016, when he lost his role as the setup man in April and finished on the disabled list with a 5.53 ERA.
Earlier in camp, Manager Dave Roberts mentioned the diminished velocity on Fields' fastball. The pitch resided around 91-92 mph; it was usually clocked closer to 95 mph last season. His ERA this spring is 15.91. The Dodgers could always option Fields to the minors to allow him to build arm strength. Morrow is on a minor league contract, and could be stashed in triple-A Oklahoma City as depth.
The uncertainty with the bullpen partially stems from an injury to Pedro Baez. After a lengthy layoff, Baez is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session in weeks, said bench coach Bob Geren, who is managing the club while Roberts grieves the loss of his father, Waymon.
Baez has not pitched in a game this spring. He suffered a bone bruise on his pitching hand when he was clipped by a ground ball during a round of live batting practice last month. Geren did not rule out the possibility of Baez being ready for opening day April 3, though the prospect does feel unlikely.
"You'd have to see how the timeline would go," Geren said. "But when you do have one-inning relievers, they're the quickest to come."
Seager continues to make progress
For the third day in a row, shortstop Corey Seager took the field with his teammates Saturday morning. Geren indicated Seager was slated to undergo a workout "just like any other player." Seager has not appeared in a game since March 3 after experiencing tightness in his oblique muscle and his back.
Geren declined to provide a timetable for Seager to appear in a game. He is likely to get a slew of at-bats in minor league games when his body can handle the task.
"He'll do full activities today and progress in a normal fashion from there," Geren said. "It's good news that he's feeling good and going through a full workout."
Members of the organization have stayed in contact with Roberts as he spends time with his family, but Geren indicated he was unsure when the manager was expected to return. "Whatever time he needs, it's no problem," Geren said.