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Dodgers

Chris Hatcher clears up Dodgers bullpen’s setup question

Chris Hatcher

Dodgers reliever Chris Hatcher works in the eighth inning against the Reds during a game Aug. 27 in Cincinnati.

(Joe Robbins / Getty Images)

The search has been going on for two or three years now. The Dodgers know Kenley Jansen is their closer, it’s just who comes before him that’s been an ongoing dilemma.

The Dodgers had plenty of bullpen candidates for the middle innings, but a discernible setup man remained beyond reach. As the regular season comes to a close, their 2015 search is taking them back to where they began — right-hander Chris Hatcher.

Hatcher was one of their great disappointments in the first half, putting up a 6.38 earned-run average and 1.58 walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP). But since returning from a two-month absence on the disabled list with a strained left oblique, he has been a different reliever.

In his last 21 games, Hatcher has a 1.37 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and has 24 strikeouts to six walks in 19 2/3 innings. It’s been a somewhat remarkable rebirth.

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“I’m throwing the ball pretty well,” Hatcher said. “Getting good results, making good pitches, and like I’ve said all along, I’ve had better luck in the second half. I think that luck might stem a little bit from mixing pitches better and staying off the barrel of the bat.”

As the Dodgers prepare for the postseason, Manager Don Mattingly has settled on Hatcher as his right-handed eighth-inning man and Luis Avilan as his left-handed setup man.

“Hatch has been throwing the ball good for us for a while now, since he came back, he’s established himself late,” Mattingly said. “I think outside of that, we’ve kind of mixed and matched. Luis has been our later-inning lefty.”

Hatcher said the objective is the same regardless of which inning he is summoned to pitch — “Get three outs before they score.”

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He said the reality is, precious few teams have that designated eighth-inning man.

“If you stop and think about it, how many teams actually have that? There’s not many,” he said. “Bullpens are volatile. You can ride the hot hand or you can appoint someone and say, ‘This is our setup guy.’ We’re all going to struggle at some point.”

Kendrick keeps rolling

Hatcher isn’t the only Dodger who’s returned from injury in impressive fashion. Howie Kendrick (hamstring) has picked up in where he left off.

Kendrick was hitting .296 before going on the disabled list and has hit .289 in his 12 games since returning on Sept. 19.

“I’ve been happy with his at-bats,” Mattingly said. “Obviously, he wasn’t feeling 100% after he got back. I’m not sure that he is right now or is ever going to be [this season]. But I think what we were able to do with the simulated at bats were really good this year.”

Peraza still out

Rookie Jose Peraza looked like a candidate for the postseason roster after demonstrating his versatility and speed on the bases earlier, but Mattingly said he is not far along enough from his hamstring injury and will not be ready for the first round. … Mattingly said outfielder Scott Van Slyke will wear a brace on his inflamed right wrist through the weekend, meaning he will not be able to play in Sunday’s regular-season finale. … With the activation of Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers are up to 39 active players.

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