There was no lightning-bolt moment for Scott Alexander, no bullpen session or in-game pitch sequence when everything clicked for a left-hander who rebounded from an April 28 demotion to triple A to become one of the Dodgers’ best late-inning relievers.
“One day I went out there, and the ball just started coming out of my hand well,” said Alexander, who had a 3.63 earned-run average in 38 games before Saturday. “This is how I threw the ball last year, so it’s nothing crazy for me. I think it was a matter of dialing in to what I know I can do.”
The Dodgers acquired the groundball specialist in a three-team trade from Kansas City in January as an effective and less-expensive left-handed option to departed free agent Tony Watson.
Alexander’s sinking fastball sat in its usual 93-mph range in April, but he couldn’t always harness the pitch, often spiking it in the dirt. A 6.35 ERA, nine walks and seven strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings of 11 games in which he yielded a .793 on-base-plus-slugging percentage got Alexander demoted to Oklahoma City.
“I’m in touch with reality — I knew I wasn’t pitching well, so it wasn’t a huge shock,” said Alexander, who was 5-4 with a 2.48 ERA in 58 games as a Royals rookie in 2017. “But I knew I was close to figuring it out.”
A change of scenery was good for Alexander, who gave up no runs and four hits, struck out five batters and walked one in four games for Oklahoma City.
“The first game there allowed me to pitch, and if things didn’t go well, I didn’t have any stress about it,” Alexander said. “I didn’t have to worry about losing a game in front of 45,000 people. It was a nice, relaxed environment.”
Alexander returned to the Dodgers on May 9 with a better feel for his delivery and release point, especially the timing mechanism in which he taps the ball into his glove before throwing a pitch.
The strikeout of Albert Pujols with the bases loaded to end the sixth inning and a scoreless seventh inning Friday night capped a 27-appearance stretch in which Alexander had a 2.54 ERA with eight holds, 25 strikeouts and 10 walks in 28 1/3 innings, yielding a .584 OPS.
“He figured something out at OKC, and from that point on, he’s been a different guy,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Having a guy who can get lefties and righties out, in leverage … those guys are hard to find, and we’re leaning on him a lot.”
The Dodgers put reliever Yimi Garcia on the 10-day disabled list because of right forearm inflammation and starter Kenta Maeda on the three-day paternity list after his wife gave birth to the couple’s second child, a son, late Thursday night.
Garcia, who is 1-2 with a 5.21 ERA, 19 strikeouts and three walks over 19 innings of 20 appearances, was unavailable for the previous three days, and the Dodgers couldn’t afford to go any longer with a short-handed bullpen.
Dylan Floro, a right-hander who was acquired from Cincinnati on Wednesday, was activated for Saturday’s game, and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte was recalled from triple A.
Maeda insisted on pitching Friday night despite getting only a few hours sleep the night before. He gave up one run and three hits in 5 2/3 innings, with nine strikeouts and two walks, in the Dodgers’ 3-2 loss to the Angels. He is scheduled to pitch Wednesday night in San Diego.
“We encouraged him to get the same amount of sleep before his next start,” Roberts said.
A stiff neck from his awkward head-first slide into the plate Wednesday prevented Rich Hill from throwing his normal between-starts bullpen workout Saturday. But the left-hander played catch and said he plans on making his next start Tuesday night in San Diego.
Has Hill watched a replay of his slide?
“No, I don’t want to,” he said. “It’s too painful.”