Alex Vesia provides much-needed relief from the left side for the Dodgers
The roulette wheel that the Dodgers have spun all season in search of a reliable left-handed reliever appears to have landed on No. 51.
That’s the jersey number worn by Alex Vesia, the 25-year-old who was shaky in a first-half stint with the Dodgers but has been dominant since being recalled from triple-A Oklahoma City in early July.
Vesia replaced starter Max Scherzer after a lengthy rain delay Tuesday night and threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out four and walking none, in a 5-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
He threw another scoreless inning in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Phillies, striking out Alec Bohm with a 95-mph fastball and Brad Miller with a 96-mph fastball in a one-two-three fifth and departing after walking Bryce Harper on a full-count slider that appeared to catch the top of the strike zone to open the sixth.
After going 0-1 with a 5.91 ERA, striking out 16 and walking 11, in 10 2/3 innings from May 1 to June 2, Vesia is 2-0 with an 0.66 ERA since July 9, striking out 17 and walking three in 13 2/3 innings. He has given up only five hits to 48 batters in that stretch.
To win a ninth consecutive NL West championship, the Dodgers will have to track down the Giants. A 2-1 loss Thursday to the Phillies didn’t help their chances.
“Going down to triple-A, I got to clear my head, and coming back up, I was able to bring what I was doing in triple-A and carry it over to big leagues,” said Vesia, who was acquired from the Miami Marlins in February. “It was nothing super crazy [as far as changes]. It was just kind of building confidence one inning at a time.”
Vesia, a Cal State Hayward product, has the stuff to succeed in the big leagues, mixing a fastball that averages 93.6 mph with an 84.4-mph slider and an 86.1-mph changeup, but command issues torpedoed his first stint with the Dodgers.
“I’d walk two guys in a row then punch a guy out, walk another guy, then strike out the next guy on three pitches,” Vesia said. “I had little flashes, and now it’s being able to fully pound the zone and command it the way I know how.”
After his early June demotion to triple-A, Vesia gave up one earned run in nine innings of nine appearances, striking out 19 and walking three. He struck out 10 consecutive batters over one four-appearance stretch. But he said the adjustments he made were more mental than mechanical.
The Dodgers have used an astounding 33 pitchers this season.
“I try to grip it and rip it,” Vesia said. “When you’re in your rhythm and [catchers] Will [Smith] or [Austin] Barnes puts down a sign and you have full conviction, it plays. I think that mentality is what works for me.”
It also works for the Dodgers, who have cycled through left-handers like face coverings this season. Victor Gonzalez, Garrett Cleavinger, Scott Alexander and Darien Nunez have all been ineffective and are now injured.
Where does Vesia fit in?
“He’s right there,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He really wasn’t on the radar early in the year, but he’s played himself into that role.”
How has Vesia changed since the beginning of the season?
Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer had his paid administrative leave extended Friday to Aug. 20. Commissioner Rob Manfred has decisions to make on potential discipline.
“I think he’s just more comfortable,” Roberts said. “Last year was his first stint in the big leagues, and it was a quick ascension for him. Coming to a new club, you’re trying to fit in and compete and perform, and it took a couple of times up here to get comfortable.
“I think he’s found his confidence, his swagger, and certainly, the performance has been very consistent. It’s been a huge add for us.”
Barnes also noticed a difference in Vesia from his first-half stint with the Dodgers.
“I feel like he’s more comfortable,” the Dodgers catcher said. “He knows what he wants to do on the mound. Things are a little more clear for him out there. He trusts his fastball, and he’s throwing off-speed pitches at the right times. When he’s throwing with confidence, he’s throwing the ball really well.”
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