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Eight is enough relievers for the Dodgers to stymie the Cardinals

Dodgers reliever Alex Vesia pitches during the third inning against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Dodgers reliever Alex Vesia during the third inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday in St. Louis.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

It took eight relievers Tuesday night to accomplish what Max Scherzer did a day earlier — complete eight innings — but to the Dodgers, the number of baton-carriers needed to run a race isn’t as important as winning it.

Right-hander Mitch White was scheduled to throw the bulk of Tuesday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals, but manager Dave Roberts said the team made a “last-minute decision” to push White back to Wednesday night and go with a true bullpen game.

The Dodgers stumbled out of the blocks, as Corey Knebel and Evan Phillips combined to give up two runs and five hits in the first 2 2/3 innings.

But seven more relievers — Alex Vesia, Shane Greene, Phil Bickford, Brusdar Graterol, Joe Kelly, Blake Treinen and Neftali Feliz — combined to blank the Cardinals on three hits over the final 6 1/3 innings of the 7-2 Dodgers victory in Busch Stadium.

“They’ve been the backbone of this team all season long,” third baseman Justin Turner, who clubbed two home runs, said of the bullpen. “The offense has been up and down of late, but they’ve been carrying us.

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“They’ve been keeping us in games, they continue to go out there and throw up zeros and give us opportunities to win games when we’re not doing a whole lot offensively. We continue to tip our cap to them.”

Albert Pujols belted a first-inning home run in his return to St. Louis, and the Dodgers homered four times in all to beat the Cardinals 7-2 on Tuesday.

Vesia, who has emerged as the top left-hander in the bullpen this season, was credited with the win despite facing only one batter, but it was probably the biggest out of the game.

The Cardinals took a 2-1 lead in the third when Tyler O’Neill doubled to left-center field with two outs and Nolan Arenado hit an RBI single to left off Phillips. Yadier Molina followed with a single to right to put two on with two outs.

Roberts summoned Vesia to face the left-handed-hitting Matt Carpenter, who struck out on three pitches, a pair of 85-mph sliders and a 94-mph fastball. The Dodgers scored twice in the top of the fourth, making Vesia the pitcher of record when his team took the lead.

“Evan was getting a little gassed right there, they got a couple of hits in that inning, so for Alex to get that matchup and get the punch, I think that kind of stopped their momentum and allowed us to reset,” Roberts said. “That was a big play in the game.”

Greene gave up a leadoff double to Paul DeJong in the fourth but retired the next three batters, getting help from shortstop Corey Seager, who ranged to his right to make a back-hand grab of Harrison Bader’s grounder in the hole and a long throw to first base for the first out.

Dodgers pitcher Corey Knebel during the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals Tuesday.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

Bickford gave up a single in the fifth. Graterol retired the side in order in the sixth. Kelly threw a one-two-three seventh. Treinen struck out two of four batters in the eighth. Feliz gave up a two-out single in the ninth.

“Our bullpen has done an unbelievable job, and Doc and Mark [Prior, pitching coach] are doing an outstanding job of mixing and matching and knowing what guy to bring in,” first baseman Albert Pujols said.

“It’s not easy, and these guys are taking the ball and pitching like there’s no tomorrow, and that’s something that’s really special for us. To get to where this organization wants to go, we’re gonna need that help from the bullpen.”

With injuries and the loss of Trevor Bauer to a sexual assault investigation reducing the rotation to four and sometimes three starters for much of the second half, the Dodgers have leaned heavily on a bullpen that ranks seventh in the major leagues with 534 2/3 innings pitched.

Tuesday night marked the team’s eighth true bullpen game of the season. The Dodgers have worked relievers around “bulk arms” for another 30 games or so.

Albert Pujols hasn’t started a lot in the Dodgers’ lineup since signing, but his presence has had an impact on the team that’s impossible to overstate.

The relievers have held up under the stress, ranking fourth with a 3.21 ERA, first in batting average against (.208) and third in holds (88). They’ve allowed the second-fewest hits (393) and earned runs (185) and the fourth-fewest home runs (51).

In their last 29 games, Dodgers relievers have posted a 1.91 ERA with 148 strikeouts in 146 innings. It’s no coincidence that the team over that stretch is 23-6.

“As far as production, these guys have done a fantastic job,” Roberts said. “You have veteran guys who are taking the baseball and getting outs, you have young players who are cutting their teeth this year and performing well and really picking us up in big spots. The way we prevent runs has been fantastic.”


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