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Dodgers Dugout: Is Chase Utley a relief pitcher?

Dodgers Dugout: Is Chase Utley a relief pitcher?
Newest Dodger Chase Utley. (Matt Slocum / AP)

Hi, welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, hoping that none of the Dodgers relievers ever apply for jobs as hockey goalies, because they have trouble saving things.

Chase Utley?

Before we talk about the bullpen, let’s take a look at the Dodgers’ latest move, acquiring second baseman Chase Utley from the Philadelphia Phillies for minor leaguers Darnell Sweeney and John Richy.

Basically, what the Dodgers are saying is that they don’t have faith that Kiké Hernandez is the answer at second base while Howie Kendrick is out. Hernandez is, after all, hitting only .366 with three home runs in August. Of course, this does allow Hernandez to go back to his most valuable role of super sub, able to play almost any position, including center field, where he can start in place of Joc Pederson when there’s a tough left-hander on the mound.

The Dodgers are rolling the dice with this move. If Utley comes in and hits like the Chase Utley of old, then this will be a good move. If he hits .217, as he has with the Phillies this season, it’s not such a great move. Utley, however, is 15 for 31 since coming off the disabled list  Aug. 7, so perhaps he has regained his form. It’s also important to note that Utley has played in 46 postseason games, with 10 home runs.

As Jimmy Rollins, Utley’s old teammate with the Phillies who is reunited with him again, put it: "Hopefully, first and foremost, he's healthy and in a good place. With that being the case, the way he's swung the bat since he's been playing, anyone can use that and we can definitely use it."

The problem I have with the move, though, is that it doesn’t address the Dodgers’ biggest problem:

The bullpen is horrible

I should just save this and cut and paste it into every newsletter. The Dodgers bullpen, other than Kenley Jansen, is atrocious. And here is what is so frustrating about it: After last season, if you asked Dodgers fans what the team needed to address in the off-season, 90% would have told you the bullpen. And it would be the same today, because the team has done nothing to improve the bullpen. They traded in a cast of nondescript pitchers such as Jamey Wright and Paul Maholm for a new cast of nondescript pitchers, such as Jim Johnson and Juan Nicasio. This is why most Dodgers fans are still pessimistic. What killed the Dodgers in last year’s playoffs is still killing them today. The two guys they acquired at the trade deadline, Johnson and Luis Avilan, have ERAs of 21.00 and 7.20 with the Dodgers. J.P. Howell, great all season, is going through his usual end-of-season, overworked swoon, with an ERA of 5.19 in August. There is no one reliable to pitch the seventh and eighth innings. It’s the one area where I feel sorry for Don Mattingly. He has no one to turn to, and in the end it might cost him his job. However, there may be an answer.

Time for Urias

Remember 1980, when the Dodgers brought up a young left-hander from the minors, a kid named Fernando Valenzuela who dominated the league, going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in September as the Dodgers rallied to tie the Houston Astros to force a one-game playoff (curse you, Dave Goltz)? Remember 2002, when the Angels brought up a kid named Francisco Rodriguez, who posted a 0.00 ERA in September and went 5-1 in the playoffs as the setup man for Troy Percival as the Angels won the World Series?

Here’s my proposal: The Dodgers should bring up their top pitching prospect, Julio Urias, either now or Sept. 1 when rosters expand, and see if they can catch lightning in a bottle with him pitching in relief. In three minor-league seasons, Urias has struck out 256 batters in 212 innings, giving up only 162 hits. He has a 3.03 ERA in double-A Tulsa this season, with 71 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings, giving up only 49 hits and 15 walks. I say bring him up and give him a shot. He’s only 19, but so was Fernando. He throws a 95-mph fastball to go with a curve and changeup that makes his fastball seem even faster. Give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen?

Goodbye, Alberto

To make room for Utley, the Dodgers designated Alberto Callaspo for assignment, meaning the backup at third base now is Alex Guerrero. However, General Manager Farhan Zaidi said they may have another candidate: “I think we’re going to start trying to get Chase a little work over there, and if it’s something he’s comfortable with, we may try to get him in there too, especially with the way the long-run picture shapes up in September.”

Utley has played 1,551 games in his career. Of those, exactly zero have been at third base.

Ask Ross Porter

Former Dodgers announcer Ross Porter will be answering select reader questions for the rest of the season. Email me a question for Ross, and I will pass it on to him. Here’s his first response:

James  Landon  asks: "As  a  kid  growing  up  in  western Pennsylvania in  the  early ’50s, I listened  to Dodgers play-by-play announcer Johnny  Most, not  Red  Barber  or  Vin Scully. Did the Brooklyn Dodgers have two radio networks?"

Ross:  "Johnny Most  was  best  known  for  announcing  the  Boston Celtics  games  from  1953  to  1990.  Between  1958  and  1972, Johnny  served  as  a  host  of  a Red Sox postgame show  on  television  which  was  a  short  scoreboard  program  in which  he  read  baseball  scores  and  gave  details  of  those  games.  James, that  might  be  what  you  remember.  There  is  no  mention  of  baseball  play-by-play  in the  career  history  of  Most.  He  once  worked  on  the  New  York  NFL Giants  broadcasts.

“Besides  Vin  and  Jerry  Doggett,  the  Brooklyn  Dodgers  announcers  over  the  years were  Barber, Ernie Harwell, Connie Desmond, Andre Baruch, Al HelferMarty Glickman, Nat Allbright and  Jim Gordon."

Can we get a do over?

That deadline deal for Mat Latos hasn’t worked out as planned. The Dodgers have demoted him to the bullpen at least until September. Latos is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA with the Dodgers, perfect numbers for this bullpen.

Up next

The Dodgers travel to Houston to take on the Astros in a three-game series starting tonight. Here’s how funny baseball is: The Astros have the seventh-best record in baseball and are heralded as a great success and a threat to win the World Series. The Dodgers have the sixth-best record and are considered by many a disappointment.

And finally

Remember in the last newsletter, when I pointed out the great play the ball boy down the left-field line made in a recent game? His name is Javier Herrera, and Bill Plaschke wrote a great column about him. Go here to read it.

Have a comment or something you'd like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston

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