No player exemplified the Dodgers’ late-season swoon more than reliever Pedro Baez, who seemed to ignite opponent rallies — and incite the ire of the home fans — whenever he was summoned from the bullpen.
Yet, when the club announced its 25-player roster for the National League division series Friday morning, the right-hander was on it. And manager Dave Roberts said it was an easy choice.
“Ultimately, Pedro has been a big part of what we’ve done all year,” Roberts said during a news conference before the game. “I trust him. Arguably, he’s been our high-leveraged reliever outside of Kenley [Jansen] all year. So, I just think it makes sense.”
Roberts said he would “probably” deploy Brandon Morrow as the primary setup man for Jansen during the playoffs, with Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson as “1 and 1A” from the left side.
Baez, 29, has season statistics that would have made his selection a no-brainer. He had a 2.95 earned-run average in 66 games and limited opponents to a .099 batting average with runners in scoring position — second-best among all major league relievers.
But in the first three weeks of September, as the Dodgers were sliding toward 16 losses in 17 games, Baez had an ERA of 20.77. After a particularly tough outing at Philadelphia in which he faced seven batters and gave up four runs, he received tutelage from Jansen.
Jansen, the club’s All-Star closer, advised Baez to change up his patterns and not rely solely on his fastball. The guidance seemed to help. Baez was able to string together four scoreless outings to finish the season, striking out seven of the last 12 hitters he faced.
Baez’s roster candidacy was also bolstered by his competition for a spot. Fellow right-handed relievers Walker Buehler and Brock Stewart also struggled in September. Left-hander Luis Avilan is coming off an injury.
One factor that probably wasn’t in Baez’s favor: his past postseason experience. Entering Friday’s game, he had made 11 playoff appearances and given up seven earned runs in 9 2/3 innings.
Buehler and Stewart traveled to the club’s Arizona training complex at Camelback Ranch, where they will throw and be on call if the club needs them later.
Logan Forsythe got the start at second base over Chase Utley in Game 1 of the NLDS, even though Arizona started a right-hander, Taijuan Walker.
“I don’t think that we could have made a wrong decision,” Roberts said before the game. “I think that part of it is I think there is a tick grade better from defense from Logan. You’ve got your ace on the mound and the ability to have Chase on the bench to use him at any point in time … I think holds huge value.”
Another consideration, Roberts said, was that Friday marked Forsythe’s first career playoff appearance. “I think it’s a benefit for him to start a game, to get into the game, the flow of the postseason, as opposed to … taking his first pinch-hit or postseason at-bat off the bench.”
Silence of the Lamb
Jake Lamb had four hits in Arizona’s wild-card game win over Colorado on Wednesday. He hit 30 home runs and drove in 105 runs.
And he was not in the Diamondbacks’ starting lineup Friday.
On Thursday, shortly after Arizona arrived at Dodger Stadium for a workout, Lamb said there were “a couple” of pitchers he could face during the postseason that he would tell manager Torey Lovullo he was uncomfortable facing.
Clayton Kershaw might have been one of them. Lamb, a left-handed hitter, has never faced Kershaw and his career batting average is just .159 against all left-handers. Adam Rosales, who batted .225 this season — .240 against left-handers — started at third base.
“I just felt like we’ve been doing something like that through the course of the year since we got Rosie, and I felt like I wanted to just stay with the script,” Lovullo said before the game.
An upgrade? Very debatable. Rosales came into the game with one hit in six at-bats against Kershaw, with three strikeouts.
The Dodgers will start another left-hander, Rich Hill, in Game 2, but Lamb might get a start Saturday. He is two for four against Hill, with a home run and three RBIs.
In other lineup decisions, Lovullo went with Jeff Mathis at catcher over Chris Iannetta. Mathis is superior defensively but batted .215 this season. Iannetta batted .254 with 17 home runs. At second base, the Diamondbacks started Brandon Drury over Daniel Descalso. Drury came into the game one for 11 life-time against Kershaw. The hit: a home run.