By Jon Weisman
The first four times this year that the Dodgers faced their opponents’ starting No. 3 hitter — Jose Abreu on Thursday, Prince Fielder today — they got four strikeouts, by four different pitchers.
The fourth came today from Mike Bolsinger, whose fate for the second spring in a row has become much more interesting, in the wake of injuries to more established starting pitchers.
Through his first 16 starts in 2015, Bolsinger had a 2.83 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 89 innings. He didn’t pitch in the Majors in August, after the Dodgers’ big trade deadline moves, and by the time he returned in September, things weren’t the same. In his final five starts, he lasted 20 1/3 innings and allowed 20 runs (16 earned).
Some say that the August disruption to his routine did him in, but Bolsinger does admit that by the time September came around, he was worn down.
“I think it was just wear on my body,” he said after throwing two shutout innings against Texas today. “If you look at what my curveball was at the beginning of the year to what my curveball was at the end of the year, it didn’t have that life in it and that tumble. I don’t think my arm had that life in it.
Bolsinger said that he made sure to run “a lot” this offseason to get into better shape, so that he could break 150 innings and still feel strong. He added that he spent considerable time over the winter working on his fielding, which he felt was doing him no favors. One of his best friends chipped in by going out to a ballfield with him and do drills.
“He’d always be the one to call me out (about my fielding), on the phone — make fun of me or whatever — but honestly it was something I think needed to be improved, especially picking off at first and holding runners on. I can’t tell you how many times I should have picked over and they hit-and-run on me, and that cost me a run later on in the innings, so I think that’s something I needed to get better at.”
That brings us to 2016. Once again, Bolsinger wasn’t in the Dodgers immediate rotation plans. Once again, he made sure to be ready if and when those plans changed.
“I kind of came into Spring Training frustrated, because I knew I probably wasn’t going to make the rotation,” he said. “But I think it was an opportunity to show how much I improved from last year.
“Having that last month in September really left a bad taste in my mouth. I definitely didn’t want to be remembered as that guy, and unfortunately that is what I was remembered for, and all the other good stuff was kind of put on the back shelf. I really wanted to change — just start a new slate. It really has (motivated me).”
Said Dodger manager Dave Roberts after today’s game: “He came into camp in great shape, great look in his eyes, and we expect him to throw well.”
Bolsinger began this year’s quest effectively. In his first inning, he sandwiched a two-out Adrian Beltre bloop single with strikeouts of Fielder and Ian Desmond. In his second inning, he had a hiccup after a Scott Van Slyke error at first base — walking Elvis Andrus — before inducing an inning-ending double play from Michael McKendry.
“First inning was really good,” Bolsinger said. “Second inning, I thought he was out at first, so mentally in my head, that was two outs. I was kind of frustrated that I walked the guy. But other than that, I was really trying to work on my fastball location, and the slider was good today.”
Said Roberts: “His breaking ball was sharp. His cutter and fastball command was good.”
Bolsinger still has plenty of work to do to earn a spot in the rotation, but he’s in a good place, physically and mentally.
“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I feel like a veteran I guess, in a way. I just feel a lot more comfortable. It’s nice knowing the people that you played with last year, and it’s definitely nice getting respect from people too. I think that’s the most important. Just in general, I feel like now they know me — they respect me as a person — that’s just been big for me.”