By Jon Weisman
Maybe you groaned when Zack Greinke left Friday’s Dodger game in the eighth inning. Maybe you thought “Here we go again” when Chris Hatcher gave up an RBI single to Pittsburgh left fielder Starling Marte on his very first pitch.
But if you’ve really been paying attention lately, you might have noticed that was an aberration.
And you might not have been surprised that Hatcher came right back, buckled down and got the Pirates’ most dangerous hitter, Andrew McCutchen, to foul out, before Aramis Ramirez grounded modestly to first base.
Since September 1, the Dodger bullpen has the second-lowest WHIP (1.03) in the National League and is first in strikeout-walk ratio. These are among several encouraging signs for a relief staff that was strong in the first third of the 2015 season before slumping terribly in the middle portion.
Though not exactly like the team’s 180-degree basestealing turn (an MLB-best 34 for 43 since August 1), the Dodger bullpen seems to have evolved from a weakness into, if not an out-and-out strength, at least an adequacy.
Understandably, there’s still the fear that this could all blow up again in a minute. But to give credit where credit is due: Since the Dodgers’ disastrous 0-5 roadtrip from August 18-23, they have played 23 games. Here’s how many times the bullpen has hurt the Dodgers …
- September 3: Dodgers lead 7-4 in sixth inning at San Diego, lose 10-7.
- September 9: Dodgers tied 2-2 in eighth inning at Anaheim, lose 3-2.
- September 15: Dodgers trail 3-1 in seventh inning vs. Colorado, lose 5-4 in 16 innings.
I’d argue that the last example shouldn’t even count: Dodger relievers allowed one run in nine innings before erstwhile starting pitcher Mat Latos gave up the 16th-inning homer to Nolan Arenado. But even including that defeat, that’s an encouraging slate.
The Dodgers are 18-5 since August 25, despite only one complete game and 72 1/3 innings from the bullpen.
Here’s how the nine principal Dodger relievers have performed in that time (click to enlarge)
It’s not a bulletproof group — Juan Nicasio and Pedro Baez have struggled — but some things jump out at you. Kenley Jansen being Kenley Jansen. J.P. Howell and Luis Avilan stranding all 22 inherited runners. Quiet shutdown innings from Yimi Garcia and Joel Peralta. Perhaps most of all, Hatcher’s overall effectiveness.
Hatcher’s three shutout innings in the critical, 12-inning victory over the Giants on August 31 might have been a turning point for him. In two previous appearances, Hatcher faced eight batters and walked three. Starting on August 31, Hatcher has faced 37 batters — and walked one.
When Hatcher gave up that single to Marte and faced a potentially dire situation, he seemed unfazed.
“I think it’s that he’s having success,” Don Mattingly said after the game Friday. “I think his confidence is growing. The one thing that we have seen since he came back from his injury is just piecing his pitches together differently. His mix is different. ”