Dodgers’ crowded bullpen struggling with speed limits – Daily Breeze



LOS ANGELES ― Like a lot of pitchers, Daniel Hudson’s fastball velocity has been down a tick early in the 2022 season. Throwing a baseball 96 mph rather than 97 is the sort of first-world problem that might not matter in a three-game span. Sure enough, Hudson has retired eight of the first nine batters he’s faced out of the Dodgers’ bullpen.

Hudson’s predicament is, in part, a symptom of being one of 11 relief pitchers on the active roster. With fewer opportunities to pitch comes fewer opportunities to accelerate one’s velocity into mid-season form.

Left-handers Alex Vesia and Garrett Cleavinger, both healthy, made one appearance each in the team’s first nine games. Of the eight returning relievers who threw a pitch for the Dodgers last season, only one ― right-hander Evan Phillips ― is throwing harder on average than he did a year ago.

It’s a challenge that could last a couple more weeks, at least.

On May 2, all teams must pare their 28-man rosters to 26, including a maximum of 13 pitchers. Typically, a 13-man pitching staff will support five starters and eight relievers. Until then, Roberts said the Dodgers will continue with 11 relievers and three position players on the bench.

“It’s harder keeping the relievers relevant,” Roberts said. “It’s been circumstantial. I haven’t pitched Alex (Vesia) like I would’ve wanted to, but that’s the hard part of having so many guys down in the ’pen and our starters giving us length.”

For Hudson, some subtle adjustments have been necessary. Losing a tick on his fastball means leaning more heavily on his slider. He’s thrown the pitch more than half the time (56 percent according to Statcast), something the 35-year-old has never done in 12 previous major league seasons.

“I wouldn’t think that I’m going to continue that,” Hudson said. “I might. It’s the way at-bats have gone, the way I notice guys on my heater. I just feel like the slider’s been in play so far.”

Shortening spring training from six weeks to less than four did no favors to pitchers trying to build speed, either. Camps did not open until March 11 because of a 99-day lockout that began last December, when the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the MLB Players’ Association expired.

Hudson said his fastball velocity is typically peaking by the third week of the regular season.

“I just think it’s the short ramp-up here with spring training,” he said.

ROSTER MOVE

The Dodgers optioned Cleavinger and recalled right-handed pitcher Phil Bickford from Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Bickford, 26, pitched three innings across four Triple-A games, striking out three batters and allowing one run. After reporting arm soreness in spring training, the right-hander effectively used the minor league assignment as an extended build-up period.

Bickford made 56 appearances for the Dodgers last season, third-most on the team, and posted a 2.50 ERA in 50 1/3 innings.

Cleavinger, 28, appeared in one game for the Dodgers this season, allowing one run on two hits in two-thirds of an inning.

CALIFORNIA LOVE

Freddie Freeman is one of two Dodgers (along with Trea Turner) who has yet to get a day off this season. Roberts said Freeman won’t rest when his former team, the Atlanta Braves, come to town for three games beginning Monday.

One day after Freeman signed a free agent contract with the Dodgers, the Braves signed pitcher Kenley Jansen to a one-year deal on March 19. Should the former Dodgers closer be booed if he pitches in the series?

“Absolutely not,” Roberts said. “He better get a very good standing ovation because he’s earned it and he deserves it.”

UP NEXT

Braves (RHP Huascar Ynoa, 0-1, 15.00 ERA) at Dodgers (LHP Clayton Kershaw, 1-0, 0.00 ERA), Monday, 7 p.m., SportsNet LA, MLB Network, 570-AM



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