The Dodger bullpen is nearing another crunch. Todd Coffey is scheduled to pitch in minor-league rehab games Wednesday and Friday, in advance of becoming eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
Before Coffey went on the disabled list to make room for the activation of Ted Lilly, it appeared that Josh Lindblom would be sent to the minors, because he had options remaining. Since that time, the importance to the Dodger bullpen of Lindblom, who had a 2.73 ERA and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings last year, has only been underscored. Even after allowing his first run of the season Monday, the 24-year-old Lindblom has a 0.84 ERA in 2012 with nine baserunners in 10 2/3 innings, generally pitching in critical situations. Meanwhile, Mike MacDougal has been just about useless in what has become a mop-up role, allowing 12 of 26 batters to reach base.
Even though the Dodgers have committed $1 million to MacDougal ($650,000 salary for 2012, plus a $350,000 buyout of the club’s nearly insane $2.35 million 2013 option), it’s seemed clear in recent days that Lindblom has established that he has become too important to the Dodgers to send to the minors.
There’s room for a little second-guessing, however.
MacDougal has suffered from a .412 batting average on balls in play (Lindblom is at .174). The 35-year-old’s top problem has been that he has walked five batters in 4 2/3 innings. MacDougal has always had control problems, but as overrated as he might have been in 2011, he’s probably better than he has shown in 2012. The sample sizes are so small that I’m not sure the Dodgers would be ready to give up on their MacDougal investment so early in the year.
On the other hand, they might as well be. MacDougal’s peak value is still replaceable. The Dodgers aren’t hurting for alternatives, including Shawn Tolleson, who continues to absolutely destroy opposing batters in the minors. After becoming the team’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2011, Tolleson has started 2012 by facing 22 batters and striking out 13, while allowing only three to reach base.
In addition, Ronald Belisario’s suspension will end next week (May 3) after the Dodgers play their 25th game, forcing Los Angeles to confront his future. And somewhere down the road, a recovery for Blake Hawksworth theoretically lurks.
There’s only one logical assumption, and that’s another conveniently timed injury will befall a Dodger reliever, perhaps one whose initials are the same as Mickey Mantle’s. Barring that, Los Angeles should be brave enough to confront a future without MacDougal, who conceivably could clear waivers anyway and spend some time in Triple-A, where he pitched as recently as 2010.