Dodgers mailbag: How big a problem is the Dodgers bullpen?

Chris Hatcher

Chris Hatcher

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers are 12-7. That translates to a 102-game pace, given the .632 winning percentage. The team has won four consecutive series in a row, besting division rivals from Arizona, San Francisco and Colorado these past two weeks.

But, as always, there are questions to be answered, especially after Sunday’s preposterous 12-10 victory at Coors Field. Let’s get to them. If you have a question, send it to me on Twitter @McCulloughTimes.


After Sunday, this one isn’t hard to answer. The bullpen is the ship’s biggest leak. Yimi Garcia is out for at least two weeks (and I’ll be curious to see if he undergoes any further testing this week at Dodger Stadium). J.P. Howell is curiously AWOL. Pedro Baez lives dangerously. And Chris Hatcher?

Well, Hatcher has been an issue. The front office of Andrew Friedman installed him as Kenley Jansen’s set-up man last year, and stuck with him through a rocky first half. After a trade for Aroldis Chapman fell through this past winter, the Dodgers did not acquire another upgrade. They would stick with Hatcher, at least at the start.

On the surface, the decision was curious. From 2014 to 2015, Hatcher threw 95 innings. There were 120 other relievers who threw at least 90 innings. Among that group, Hatcher ranked 80th in earned-run average (3.51).

The Dodgers would point beyond that statistic toward others. Hatcher also finished 25th in fielding-independent earned-run average (2.90) and 24th in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.20). From that perspective, you could argue that Hatcher is a more effective pitcher than, say, Royals All-Star Kelvin Herrera (3.06 FIP and 2.37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2014-15). Except Herrera has a 2.06 ERA during that period, a much better mark than Hatcher, and the goal of the endeavor is not to allow runs.

That is the rub with a lot of the Dodgers relievers. You can believe in the talent and you can trust the process and you can avoid overreaction to the small sample size of April. But at some point, you also need to stop blowing leads.

Probably not. This April, I am not sure what Enrique Hernandez has demonstrated that was not already apparent. He can play a bunch of positions. He can crush left-handed pitching (.667/.733/1.333) and he cannot really hit right-handed pitching (.179/.258/.214). There’s nothing new here. He has plenty of value, but he needs to be used carefully.

So Hernandez will likely stay on the bench against right-handed pitchers. Carl Crawford is expected to return from the disabled list Monday. Howie Kendrick looks more comfortable in left field than he does at third base. At some point, theoretically, Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke will return from the disabled list.

In David’s defense, he asked this question before A.J. Ellis hit a two-run homer on Saturday night and provided a crucial RBI single on Sunday afternoon.

But my answer would be the same. Ellis still has value, even if he likely won’t replicate his offensive peak of 2012. Yes, he has been involved in more passed balls and wild pitches than he would like thus far. He still posted a .355 on-base percentage with a .758 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2015. Clayton Kershaw wants to throw to him every fifth day. Kenta Maeda gave Ellis credit for guiding him through a jam on Saturday.

That led to a funny exchange after the game. Asked about his approach while facing Nolan Arenado with the bases loaded, Maeda said, through his interpreter Will Ireton, “I was just following A.J.’s demands.”

Figuring that would provoke a reaction from Ellis, I relayed the quote to him. He suggested he might need to speak to Ireton. After his interview, Ellis found Maeda and Ireton at their lockers.

“Listen,” he said, his voice rising in mock indignation, “I don’t demand anything!”

The trio cracked up as Ireton translated the exchange back to Maeda.

The humor obscured what actually happened in the at-bat: Ellis instructed Maeda to throw a changeup. As Ellis recalled, it was his first changeup to a right-handed hitter on the day. Maeda hung the pitch, leaving it flat over the middle. Caught off guard, Arenado still popped it up.

The Dodgers will continue to talk up the talent of Austin Barnes. But teams that are contending for championships should not develop players at the major-league level, and Barnes hit .207 in a cameo last year and went 2-for-15 during his early stay in 2016. That’s a preposterously small sample, of course, but if he wants to unseat him, a rookie like Barnes needs to prove he has more value than a veteran like Ellis. Barnes has not done that.

Trade discussions between clubs never really stop, but they generally heat up in June and become consummated in July, around the July 31 trade deadline. The biggest name expected to be bandied about is Oakland starter Sonny Gray. The Dodgers have the financial might and the prospect surplus necessary to make a trade. We will see if they do.

The timeline has not changed. Frankie Montas has been cleared to throw bullpen sessions at the team’s complex in Camelback Ranch. He could be ready to contribute by June, maybe even early May.

Manager Dave Roberts said the team will stretch Montas out as a starter during his rehabilitation. But if necessary, the team can shift him into a relief role. That strategy makes sense, as there are some in the game who still think Montas can be a useful starter. But in 2016, his best value will come in relief, and that’s probably how you will see him used in the major leagues.


It seems so. I wrote a story about their relationship during spring training.

So, let’s say the Dodgers are getting crushed, like they were on Tuesday night in Atlanta. What’s the best way to spend your time?

(Besides, of course, perusing Dylan Hernandez’s greatest hits.)

I have two recommendations. I recently started “Horace and Pete,” Louis CK’s series released through his website. Whoa. It is dark, deflating and captivating. The performances from Alan Alda, Edie Falco and Jessica Lange are tremendous, not to mention Louis and Steve Buschemi. It’s not an uplifting show, but it is hard to look away.

In a similar vein, I just finished “Thank You for Your Service,” David Finkel’s 2013 book about soldiers returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The book captures the horrors of post-traumatic stress disorder in harrowing fashion.

On a happier note, I’m very excited for the new record by the Hotelier.

I’m holding out hope. As I’ve mentioned before, I never watch Raw, Smackdown or NXT, but I do try to catch the monthly specials (they are still PPVs to me, darn it). It would be great to see a reformation of the Bullet Club as a heel faction, with A.J. Styles working as their reluctant friend. You could work an angle, theoretically, where Styles refuses to accept interference from Anderson, Balor and Gallows against Roman Reigns at Payback, which could start a program between Styles and Balor. That would be outstanding.

Also: The WWE needs to call up Samoa Joe. He’s probably the third-best worker in the company (behind Styles and Seth Rollins), and he could be an incredible No. 2 heel for the main roster.

I hope it’s “Doubts” by Pup.

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes