Brusdar Graterol would’ve welcomed playing for the Boston Red Sox. He lives in Fort Myers, Fla., the organization’s spring training home, year-round. The commute would’ve been five minutes, even shorter than the 15 minutes he drove to the Minnesota Twins’ facility since moving to Florida three years ago. His fiancé’s family are Red Sox fans. The fit seemed seamless.
Instead, the 21-year-old Graterol boarded a flight across the country last week with the flu, after a week of anxious uncertainty, unsure of what awaited when he landed and headed to Dodgers camp. The Venezuela native was plucked from his comfort zone — and was sick on top of it.
“The worst thing that’s happened in my life,” Graterol said in Spanish, “getting sick before coming to spring training.”
He feels better now. His throat still bothers him a bit when he talks but he’s been healthy enough to throw two bullpens. The question is whether his right arm will stay healthy enough to help the Dodgers this season. The arm, specifically his elbow and shoulder, was the reason the Red Sox backed out of the three-team trade they struck with the Dodgers and Minnesota Twins at the beginning of the month.
Graterol’s injury history wasn’t a secret. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016 and missed two months with a shoulder injury last season. But the Red Sox reassessed Graterol’s value after reviewing his medicals and sought more compensation.
Once Boston’s hesitation leaked, Graterol, 21, was left confused, in the dark without a team, as the clubs worked out a revamped deal. He showed up at the Twins’ facilities to work out and received weird looks from teammates. He saw the rumors and heard about Boston’s gripes until he shut everything out after a couple of days.
“I really felt like I had a weight on top of me,” Graterol said, “not knowing what to do with the situation.”
The Dodgers ended up making separate deals with the Red Sox to achieve their goals. With Boston, in came Mookie Betts and David Price for Alex Verdugo and two prospects. With the Twins, out went Kenta Maeda and cash for Graterol, minor leaguer Luke Raley, and the 67th pick in the upcoming draft.
Los Angeles didn’t disregard Boston’s concerns with Graterol’s arm, but could not pass up the opportunity to add his elite talent. He is regarded as a top-100 prospect in the sport. He features a fastball that touches triple digits with heavy sink and a biting slider. His small sample size in the majors did not hurt his stock.
He made his major league debut Sept. 1 and was electric in 11 relief outings. He shined in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, striking out two batters in a clean 18-pitch performance at Yankee Stadium.
“A guy with his stuff, it’s just a different look for our bullpen,” Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior said. “The ability to bring that kind of raw power, impact into the game is only a good thing for us.”
Graterol was developed as a starter, but the Dodgers will use him as a reliever for now. He just has to stay healthy. The Dodgers believe they will make it work by closely monitoring his workload.
“From what I hear, the medical is sort of benign and it’s asymptomatic,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “And you see 100 [mph] in the postseason and you talk to the player and he says he feels good and he looks great.”
Graterol has been a quiet presence in the clubhouse early on; a pair of gold sneakers he’s worn is as loud as he’s gotten. He was back on the mound Thursday for his second bullpen session, wearing his white Dodgers uniform with the No. 48. “La Makina” — Spanish for “The Machine” — was stitched on his glove.
He effortlessly pounded the strike zone in front of Roberts and Prior. The potential was apparent. The heavy sink, the feel for a changeup still in development, the way he worked on holding runners. Where the Red Sox saw risk, the Dodgers envision opportunity. The move wasn’t smooth or convenient. Neither were his first few days as a Dodger. But the flu is behind him and his arm is intact and he’s getting comfortable in his surroundings.
“I’m really grateful for my new family here,” Graterol said. “And I’m here to give it my all.”
Tony Gonsolin is scheduled to start Saturday’s Cactus League opener against the San Francisco Giants, Roberts announced. Alex Wood will start Sunday against the Chicago Cubs at Camelback Ranch. … Roberts said the club has decided who will start opening day, but declined to reveal the selection. … Jimmy Nelson threw a 15-pitch bullpen session Thursday after dealing with a minor back discomfort.