Scoreless again, Liberatore sets Dodgers record

Lefty reliever puts zero on the board in 24th consecutive appearance

July 10th, 2016

LOS ANGELES -- When Saturday's 4-3 Dodgers win over the Padres ended, the FOX cameras rolled on Kenley Jansen, the All-Star who had just recorded his 26th save with a two-strikeout ninth inning.

Meanwhile, in the clubhouse, Adam Liberatore was still trying to make sense of unknowingly becoming a franchise record-setter. He struck out two batters, manager Dave Roberts came to the mound to make a pitching change and catcher Yasmani Grandal turned to Liberatore and said: "Congratulations."

"I didn't know what he meant, and it seemed like a really weird thing to say in that situation," said Liberatore. "I'm getting pulled and the guy says, 'Congratulations.'"

Turns out Liberatore had just made his 24th consecutive scoreless appearance, breaking John Candelaria's record set in 1991. This on a franchise that had closers such as Eric Gagne and Ron Perranoski, and even Saturday saver Jansen, none of them doing what Liberatore accomplished.

Clubhouse manager Mitch Poole had the baseball authenticated and presented it to Liberatore, which is as official as it gets.

"I got the ball," said Liberatore. "It's pretty cool if it's true."

It's true. So is the workhorse performance being turned in over most of the first half by the Dodgers' bullpen. With so many starting pitchers injured and so many replacements struggling to deliver the innings contending teams need from their rotations, the load has fallen on a bullpen that leads the league in ERA and has a 1.60 ERA through nine games of this homestand, averaging five innings per game.

With Jansen getting the bulk of the attention, Liberatore (0.61 ERA) leads the bullpen in being underappreciated after supplanting J.P. Howell as the left-handed setup man. Joe Blanton (2.14 ERA) replaced Chris Hatcher as the right-handed setup. Casey Fien (2.49 ERA) was grabbed from Minnesota to join Pedro Baez, Louis Coleman, Howell and Hatcher.

Fien, Hatcher, Liberatore, Blanton and Jansen picked up the final four perfect innings Saturday, retiring the last 12 batters, eight on strikeouts, with manager Dave Roberts pushing all the right buttons.

"We've talked about closing out the first half strong, and it's all hands on deck," Roberts said. "I ask a little more from these guys. The [All-Star] break is coming at a good time. They're doing what they can. Sometimes guys have to pick each other up and that's what's happening."

Along with Jansen, nobody is doing more than Liberatore. Like Jansen, a converted catcher, Liberatore has an unlikely story. He was mostly an outfielder in high school, became a pitcher in college, blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery, then was drafted in the 21st round by the Tampa Bay Rays and their boss, Andrew Friedman, who immediately traded for Liberatore and Joel Peralta after taking over the Dodgers.

Peralta is gone, but Liberatore has become irreplaceable.

"It hasn't been easy for me to get here," Liberatore said. "It was a long road for me to get to the big leagues and I don't take it for granted."