It had been 40 games since Brandon League had been in this situation. Once it was his home, his domain, but no more. Now it returned as a welcomed old friend, as fresh opportunity.
The Dodgers were up by a run Saturday going into the bottom of the ninth. They needed their closer, but Kenley Jansen is currently shelved with a heart condition.
So Manager Don Mattingly called on Brandon League, who had lost his role as the Seattle Mariners’ closer back in May, a pitcher who had struggled as a set-up man and was ultimately traded to the Dodgers on July 30.
In his first seven games he seemed a complete mess, his Dodgers’ ERA ballooning to 10.80. But since then, and since a video session in mid-August back in Pittsburgh with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and bullpen coach Kenny Howell, League has modified his delivery, using a more direct arm slot.
And he has been close to perfect.
He sat the Diamondbacks down Saturday in the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory to earn his first save since May 23. In his last seven games for the Dodgers, he has not surrendered a run. In those seven innings, he has allowed only two hits with 11 strikeouts.
“Brandon’s been throwing the ball good for a little while now,” Mattingly said. “I’ve seen his stuff before, I know how good it is. You always wonder if he’s getting hit, what’s going on.
“They felt like he was just kind of going sideways a little bit and not having a direct line. Rick and Kenny both have worked with him to get his lines better, get his direction better. He’s worked hard. He works every day. And it’s paid off. He’s been consistent for us now.”
In the ninth Saturday, Paul Goldschmidt led off with a single. But then League struck out Miguel Montero and Chris Young, before getting Ryan Wheeler to hit into a force out.
And League had his first save as a Dodger, had returned to the closer’s role with relative ease. Last year he saved 37 games for the Mariners.
“It’s not new to me,” League said. “It’s been awhile this year. I don’t know when my last save was. It’s been a long time. But I got the opportunity tonight and it worked out.”
Mattingly said until the team learns Tuesday if Jansen can return this season, he will split the closer’s duties between League and Ronald Belisario.
“It’s all about opportunity,” League said. “I came here not expecting anything. We had Kenley, who’s been dominant in the ninth, and Beli (Belisario), who’s been dominant in the eighth, and I was kind of somewhere in between the starter and Beli. Unfortunately Kenley has some health issues right now. All we can do is step up as a bullpen and pick him up.”
Like it’s home.