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By Jon Weisman
Lefty reliever Daniel Coulombe said he had absolutely “no idea” that he was going to get called up to the Majors in September, and considering he began 2014 with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, who can blame him for his surprise?
At FanFest on Saturday, I asked Coulombe to reflect what he’ll take from the experience into 2015, when he will be competing for a spot in the Dodgers’ Opening Day bullpen.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” said Coulombe, who turned 25 in October, one week after getting married. “I proved to myself I have the ability to get big-league hitters out … now it’s a matter of executing.”
Coulombe pitched 4 1/3 innings across five games, but those short stints counted for a great deal — especially the fact that the first three were on the road.
“You can’t simulate just the excitement when there’s that many people in the stands,” Coulombe said. “It’s still 60 feet, six inches to the plate, but it’s a higher level.”
A particularly tough outing came in Chicago. If you haven’t repressed it, you’ll remember that week, when the Dodger pitching staff was stretched so thin that Jamey Wright had to make a start at Wrigley Field on September 21. The day before, Coulombe entered in the bottom of the sixth inning, and in rainy, wind-swept conditions, went walk, wild pitch, wild pitch, walk.
Just like that, his day was over. No runs scored, but it was a baptism by barometric pressure (or lack thereof — if Dr. George taught me anything).
“It was tough,” Coulombe said, “especially me being an Arizona kid. I didn’t have to deal with rain a whole lot.”
Coulombe said he learned he had to prepare differently for the different types of weather, such as using a different amount of resin. But he added that he was glad the lesson happened when it did.
With a spot on the 40-man roster, Coulombe was able to focus entirely on training during the offseason for the first time. In past winters, Coulombe said, he had to do everything from working at baseball camps and giving pitching lessons to taking hourly warehouse jobs.
Now, following Arizona Fall League and Winter Development Program stints, he has his first big-league Spring Training to look forward to. Though his remaining minor-league options will no doubt be a factor in any roster decision, he’ll be looking to win a job in a bullpen that has veterans including Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell, Joel Peralta, Juan Nicasio, Chris Hatcher and Brandon League, not to mention Pedro Baez, Yimi Garcia, Adam Liberatore and Paco Rodriguez.
Coulombe would seem to be competing with Liberatore, Rodriguez and the non-roster invitees to get a spot as a second lefty specialist out of the bullpen, but it’s worth noting he fared pretty well against minor-league right-handed batters (via Minor League Central).
Coloumbe struck out 31 of the 92 hitters he faced at Double-A Chattanooga last year (33.7 percent) while walking 10. With the Dodgers, he faced 22 batters, striking out four and walking two.