Dave Roberts confident in Dodgers’ bullpen amid its magnified importance
For all the peculiarities effectively previewed in the Dodgers’ 9-2 exhibition win on Sunday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks — from empty seats to piped-in crowd noise — there was one important constant the preseason game couldn’t mimic.
High-leverage relief situations could garner outsized importance during this unforgiving, pandemic-shortened season. And though Dodgers manager Dave Roberts remains confident in his bullpen, it won’t be truly tested until the low-stress days of training camp are over.
“To go longer and use leverage relievers and pick up games that you have in hand certainly is more magnified this year,” Roberts said Sunday during a videoconference call. “So yeah, relief pitching is probably a little bit more important than it typically is.”
Prior to the exhibition, Roberts reiterated his optimism in a bullpen that faltered late last season, highlighting improvements from the two Dodgers relievers most in need of a bounce back campaign — closer Kenley Jansen and offseason signing Blake Treinen.
In Jansen, who last year set career-highs in ERA (3.71) and blown saves (eight), Roberts has seen strides in the right-hander’s signature cut fastball.
That offering was at the root of the closer’s struggles last season, inconsistent in its velocity and movement. But now, despite Jansen’s late arrival to camp following a positive COVID-19 test, the 32-year-old is throwing the pitch more like he did during three consecutive All-Star seasons from 2016 to 2018. On Sunday night, he pitched a scoreless ninth inning.
Most of the Southland will finally be able to watch Dodgers games on Spectrum SportsNet LA. What fans will see are the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think there was a little too much concern on velocity [last season] as opposed to throwing the baseball the right way and letting the hitters’ swings dictate what you do,” Roberts said, emphasizing the importance of the pitch’s sharp tailing action.
Jansen credited offseason work with Driveline, a training center that specializes in pitching mechanics, with helping him “understand what type of pitch I have and how can I make it be effective. It’s all about lower body and driving through it and staying behind [the pitch] as much as you can.”
Added Roberts: “When he’s throwing the baseball right and it’s moving the way it’s supposed to move, he’s as good as anybody.”
Treinen, also 32, wants to recapture his own All-Star form. After recording 38 saves and a sub-one ERA in 2018, the former Oakland Athletics’ right-hander said physical limitations bred poor mechanics last season, specifically on his bread-and-butter sinker ball, leading to a career-worst 4.91 ERA.
The Dodgers’ coaching staff presented Treinen with “top-to-bottom” solutions during their offseason pitch, he said, suggesting adjustments to his arm slot, wrist position and hip rotation.
“That was part of the reason I signed here,” said Treinen, who inked a one-year, $10 million contract in December. “They put together some slideshows … and were talking about some things they felt like could put me back in position to just go and compete and not have to think about mechanics.”
Though Treinen’s intrasquad training camp appearances weren’t spotless, Roberts was encouraged by the pitcher’s “trust with us,” he said, “identifying and being able to execute and implement what we feel can make him even better, back to what he was in ‘18.”
Cody Bellinger drove in five runs, including a grand slam, in the Sunday win. Mookie Betts collected two hits and a walk. Pitcher Mitch White gave up only one hit, a first-inning homer, during a five-inning start … Catcher Austin Barnes left Sunday’s game after being hit on the left hand by a pitch in the fourth, but Roberts said X-rays came back negative … Pitcher Dustin May will throw five innings during a voluntary workout Wednesday, possibly in preparation to spell starter Walker Buehler, who is not yet completely built up, in Buehler’s first start of the season next week.
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