Column: Dodgers need to remember their history and trade for pitching

Kenley Jansen throwing a pitch
Then-Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen throws against the San Francisco Giants at a game in Chavez Ravine in May 2021.
(Michael Owens / Getty Images)

This sounds crazy, but so does the fact that this could be the worst pitching staff in Dodgers history.

This seems unimaginable, but so does three walk-off losses in a week.

This may make little sense, but neither does a slowly decaying Dodgers mound, so I’ll just write it anyway.

I miss Kenley Jansen. I miss Alex Wood.


I miss the stability that a genuine closer like Jansen once brought to the bullpen, even if his tenure here ended in a dumpster fire. He was never fully appreciated. He should be now.

I also miss the consistency that a resilient starter like Wood once brought to the rotation, even if his second stint here ended with a forgettable few pitches. He was never truly embraced. He should be now.

Jansen appeared in 57 postseason games for the Dodgers while Wood started and pitched great in their only 2017 World Series win at the home of the cheating Houston Astros. Often unsung but always invaluable, both men regularly showed up for most of the West Division championship seasons, keeping the bullpen and rotation in order.

Remember the good old days of yesteryear when the Dodgers had one of the top pitching staffs in baseball, both starting and relief?

June 13, 2023

What they offered, the Dodgers needed. What they offered, the Dodgers are needing once again.

A front office used to making a giant move at the trade deadline needs to make two smaller moves, and Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, better not wait until Aug. 1.

They need a veteran closer that will allow the rest of the jumbled bullpen to find its footing and settle into established roles.


They need a veteran starter to take more pressure off the bullpen, lift some weight off Clayton Kershaw and help carry this team into October.

While it’s foolish to think they can acquire someone of Jansen’s stature, they need the sort of strength that Jansen and Wood once provided. They need it bad, and they need it soon.

“It’s difficult,” acknowledged manager Dave Roberts on Tuesday afternoon when asked about the pitching woes. “We’ve had injuries like all teams, but to catch a lead, and to not close it out, things like that, it’s frustrating for everyone. So we’re doing everything we can to kind of try to figure out what we need to get better at.”

Yet at this point, other than trades, what can they do?

Start with the bullpen, which entered the week ranked 27th out of 30 teams with a 4.76 ERA while routinely collapsing at the precise moment a game is on the line.

When the score is tied at any point from the sixth inning on, the Dodgers are 6-22. When the score is tied in the eighth or ninth inning, the Dodgers are 2-10. And in one-run games, the Dodgers are 6-8.

Because of the bullpen, these Dodgers are often smashed in crunch time, their surprisingly awesome offense startlingly nullified by a relief group that ranks 28th, giving up 35 homers. The bullpen gets beaten deep. This bullpen gets beaten late. This bullpen has beaten the swagger out of a team that for more than a decade has been built on such swagger.


Remember when the Dodgers began the season claiming they would be fine in closing by committee? So far they’ve been closing by chance. Fourteen different relievers have finished games, with five different relievers recording saves, when all they need is one strong arm.

Find a veteran reliever with closing experience, affix him to the back of the bullpen, and then let Evan Phillips, Brusdar Graterol and Caleb Ferguson get comfortable in their roles around him.

The Dodgers are hinting that Daniel Hudson, who will soon return from knee surgery, can be their closing answer. But how much can you trust someone who hasn’t pitched in a year?

Some will say the Dodgers should pursue reborn Kansas City Royals reliever Aroldis Chapman despite his checkered past. No way. Did they not learn anything from the Trevor Bauer saga?

Roberts said he is not focused on a closer. He thinks the bullpen answer can be found in the current bullpen.

“You can always get better,” Roberts said. “But what I will say is that the guys that we have, they’re gonna get opportunities to perform. And if they don’t realize their expectations or their performance, then we’ll have a decision to make as an organization. But right now for me, that’s the least of my concerns. It’s just too far out for now.”


Starting pitching, however, is a different tale. Roberts spoke like a man who would entertain the idea of another rotation arm.

“I don’t think it’s a need,” he said, but added, “I think every year, any team that’s in a race at this deadline, there’s always talk about potentially adding more pitching. So I think our guys have shown in the past that if there’s a need, we’ll fill that void.”

Dodgers right-hander Tony Gonsolin blanked the Chicago White Sox on two hits through six innings in L.A.’s 5-1 win over Chicago.

June 13, 2023

The rotation entered this week with an ERA of 4.29, 15th in baseball, strange surroundings in the home of Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton and future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw.

“We just got to be better,” said Roberts.

Easier said than won. The rotation looked strong at the start of the season, but has since slowly crumbled, strain by strain.

Julio Urías, out with a hamstring strain, has made just 10 starts and probably won’t be back until next month. Dustin May, out with a right forearm strain, has made just nine starts and may not pitch at full strength again this season. Noah Syndergaard has been terrible and might have thrown his last pitch as a Dodger.

Things are so unsettled, their most reliable pitcher is the aging and injury-prone Kershaw. After him, there is Tony Gonsolin, who has fully recovered from a spring sprained ankle and looked brilliant Tuesday night in giving up two hits in six scoreless innings in a 5-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox at Dodger Stadium. But Gonsolin was pushed back from Sunday’s scheduled start with arm issues and he’s only pitched as many as six innings three times in nine starts.


Filling out the rotation are two rookies who entered the year with seven career big league appearances combined. Bobby Miller has been unhittable, but he’s also made just four starts. Michael Grove has appeared in six games, but has an 8.28 ERA.

The Dodgers need another starter who can give them length and give the bullpen a break. They don’t need an ace, they don’t even need a top-of-the-rotation guy. They simply need a veteran arm that will take the mound every fifth day and keep the game close for six innings.

Then, once the bullpen has been engaged, they need a veteran arm guaranteed to get up in the ninth inning so the other relievers can be used in earlier leverage situations.

Is all this too much to ask?

Given Friedman’s history, it’s completely fair to ask.

The Dodgers don’t have a set reliever for ninth innings, but management believes the talent is there to ‘navigate close games and win them.’

June 12, 2023

This is the roster-reshaping mastermind who has made in-season trades for pitchers such as Max Scherzer, Yu Darvish and Rich Hill. He has the stomach for this sort of high-stakes dealing. He has the supplies to make these deals happen.

But then again, there is one blip in his résumé, and it is a recent one, his failure to add starting pitching last summer while the San Diego Padres were adding … everybody.

“With some combination of arms we have potentially coming back … it spoke to having a high bar,” Friedman said last August. “We felt really good about the potential of what our pitching staff can look like in October.”


Of course, their pitching staff only lasted four playoff games as the Dodgers were knee-capped by those Padres in a series where the final game spoke volumes. The Dodgers led 3-0 until surrendering five runs in a seventh inning that featured four relievers.

In the end, their season was lost because they didn’t have a fourth starter they trusted to go more than five innings, and because they didn’t have a closer that could have allowed the other relievers to be more certain and comfortable in their leverage roles.

The Arizona Diamondbacks aren’t going anywhere. The San Francisco Giants are playing better. The Padres are getting hot again.

The necessary trades are obvious. The trade deadline is six weeks away. The season is ticking.