Dodgers blow late lead to Guardians, raising questions about their left-handed relief options

Dodgers' Caleb Ferguson pitches to a Cleveland Guardians batter.
Dodgers’ Caleb Ferguson pitches to a Cleveland Guardians batter during the seventh inning.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)
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The Dodgers might already have their postseason position locked up, starting this week with a 12-game lead in the National League West and a nine-game edge for a first-round bye.

But, the team still has plenty of questions to answer between now and October.

One of the bigger ones: Exactly which left-handed reliever they can trust most in their bullpen.

That predicament was highlighted, circled and underlined in painful fashion Tuesday, when top left-hander Caleb Ferguson gave up two inherited runs, then three more of his own, in a disastrous seventh inning against the Cleveland Guardians.


Once up by three runs early, the meltdown cost the Dodgers in an eventual 8-3 loss at Progressive Field.

And although it did little damage to their spot in the standings, it renewed a looming concern about their late-game options out of the bullpen — particularly to combat left-handed hitters.

“These are the guys we have,” manager Dave Roberts said of the state of the Dodgers’ lefty relievers. “I’m going to keep running them out there.”

Ferguson has been the Dodgers’ top lefty for most of this season. He has flashed improved stuff in his second year removed from a second Tommy John surgery, averaging a career-best 95.8 mph with his fastball. He has been lights out over several extended stretches too, entering Tuesday with a 2.33 ERA on the season, second-best among Dodgers relievers.

With only 39 games remaining in the season, it seems like a good time to look at a potential postseason roster.

Aug. 22, 2023

However, Ferguson has looked vulnerable in several high-leverage moments, as well. He gave up three runs in a blown ninth-inning save against the Cincinnati Reds in June. He squandered four runs (all unearned) to blow another late lead against the San Diego Padres earlier this month.

Then, on Tuesday, he failed to escape the jam he inherited from starter Bobby Miller in the seventh, letting a two-on, one-out situation with a one-run lead quickly slip away.


After retiring his first batter, Ferguson threw an inside, two-strike fastball that Steven Kwan flared to center for a tying single. Facing José Ramirez next, Ferguson left a mistake fastball down the middle that the Guardians star hammered through the infield for a go-ahead base hit.

The next pitch was Ferguson’s worst, a down-the-middle cutter that Kole Calhoun hooked inside the right-field foul pole for a three-run homer.

By the time the inning was over, Ferguson’s ERA had risen to 2.87. His WHIP climbed to a troubling 1.45. And his ability to pitch with a late lead come the postseason (a stage he hasn’t pitched on since 2018) was again in doubt.

“I think everybody knows what their job is down there by this time,” Ferguson said. “When you don’t do it, it’s pretty frustrating.”

Dodgers' Bobby Miller hands the ball to manager Dave Roberts in front of catcher Will Smith.
The Dodgers’ Bobby Miller hands the ball to manager Dave Roberts in front of catcher Will Smith as he is removed during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Guardians.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

Although Roberts wasn’t pressing any panic buttons postgame — he insisted he is still “comfortable” with the team’s left-handed relief options — he did acknowledge that “Fergy has been a little in and out” and that the bullpen as a whole will remain under evaluation for the rest of the regular season.


“You’ve got to have that trust with guys,” he said. “And not just because they’re supposed to get a guy out. You’ve got to see a track record of consistent success.”

The Dodgers’ problem: There are few surefire left-handed alternatives beyond Ferguson in the bullpen.

Alex Vesia was the team’s top southpaw the last two seasons but has struggled to find consistency this year with a 5.45 ERA (though he has a 2.87 mark since returning from the minor leagues in early July).

Victor González was a breakout star on the club’s 2020 World Series team but has yet to rediscover those heights ever since, posting a 4.73 ERA in mostly mop-up duty this year.

And although trade deadline acquisition Ryan Yarbrough has been valuable in his long-relief role (he has a 1.46 ERA in 12⅓ innings with the Dodgers spread out over four outings), his low-velocity arsenal doesn’t exactly profile as a late-game, lockdown option.

Overall, the Dodgers’ bullpen has been trending in the right direction of late. Evan Phillips has embraced his task as the de facto closer, with 19 saves and a 2.49 ERA. Brusdar Graterol has been the group’s most productive arm, leading all relievers on the team with a 1.53 ERA. And Tuesday was only the team’s sixth loss in 63 games this season in which it led after six innings.


Still, as Ferguson’s latest implosion epitomized, important holes are still plaguing the team’s late-game pitching plans — especially when a left-hander is needed on the mound.

“They need to make pitches when they need to,” Roberts said. “But I’m gonna keep putting them out there in leverage.”

Austin Barnes is having his worst offensive season, but the Dodgers are still happy with what the backup catcher provides on defense and in the clubhouse.

Aug. 21, 2023

J.D. Martinez lands on injured list

Dodgers' J.D. Martinez celebrates with teammate David Peralta after hitting a solo home run.
The Dodgers’ J.D. Martinez (28) celebrates with teammate David Peralta after hitting a solo home run against the New York Mets.
(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

After a monthlong battle with linger tightness in his groin/hamstring area, designated hitter J.D. Martinez was finally put on the injured list Tuesday afternoon, with his swing remaining “compromised,” according to Roberts.

Martinez will sit out at least the next two to three weeks, as he’s slated to pause hitting activities for seven days.

The Dodgers’ hope is that the extended rest will rectify Martinez’s issue once and for all, after he sat out 15 of the team’s last 26 games. Infield prospect Michael Busch was called up to replace Martinez on the roster.


“The one thing that we haven’t done is just quit the activity,” Roberts said. “Hopefully that can knock it out.”