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Dodgers loaded with deep pitching staff

@kengurnick
March 24, 2019

Analytics and bullpenning are tools, and not rules, for how the Dodgers approach getting 27 outs a game. The organization has been winning with pitching for the better part of a century. Rick Honeycutt has been pitching coach since 2006. And he said the key to navigating a baseball game

Analytics and bullpenning are tools, and not rules, for how the Dodgers approach getting 27 outs a game.

The organization has been winning with pitching for the better part of a century. Rick Honeycutt has been pitching coach since 2006. And he said the key to navigating a baseball game more than ever is flexibility.

“It’s hard to say there’s an exact formula,” said Honeycutt. “Trust the starters as deep as you can to save the relievers.”

For the Dodgers, it starts with a front office that hoards inventory. With Ross Stripling and Julio Urias as backstops, there’s enough starting pitching depth that spring injuries to Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler haven’t triggered a panic trade or free-agent signing.

And adding Joe Kelly to Pedro Baez to share duties setting up for closer Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers believe they can win the seventh, eighth and ninth innings more often than not.

But Honeycutt’s strategy is more sensibility than script.

“Every night is different,” he said. “The starter and what he did last time and how many pitches we’re comfortable with him throwing, to who the opposition is -- if it’s not a great matchup on a particular night, that’s a factor. Over time, I think each guy shows you a level of where vulnerability sets in pitch-count wise. You watch that and the matchups. There are calculations going in.

“The other part is, how fresh is your bullpen that night? Do you have one guy down, two down, three down, and a fourth you want to stay away from? It changes every night. A lot of different variables come into play every night.”

The Dodgers have one of the deepest rotations, but they didn’t have a complete game last year for the first time in Los Angeles Dodgers history. Every starter in the opening rotation spent time on the injured list. Eleven starters were used, including relievers Daniel Hudson and Scott Alexander as “openers.”

This year, the Dodgers can choose from Kershaw, Buehler, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, Stripling and Urias. Manager Dave Roberts said youngsters Tony Gosselin and Dustin May might help the big league club before the season is over.

“I think we’re still in the mode for our starters to do ‘X’ and you hope -- not 125 pitches every time, that’s probably not happening anymore. That’s not the equation anymore -- but you hope they’re efficient,” said Honeycutt.

“Another thing for me, I always felt the third time through [the lineup], how much did the starter have to battle through before that? A 20-plus-pitch inning in the second, now in the fourth another one, it's tough to get through three of those. But when they’re breezing, it’s a totally different scenario. It’s a gut feel just watching the game.”

Then it gets back to the front office providing bullpen depth. Watch a Dodgers game and you’ll see wave after wave of hard-throwing relievers. In addition to Jansen, Baez and Kelly, this year’s bullpen includes Yimi Garcia, Dylan Floro and JT Chargois from the right side, and Alexander and Caleb Ferguson from the left side. And when the rotation is at full strength, Stripling and Urias can pitch in relief.

Honeycutt deploys them based mostly on matchups, and any of them can show up almost anywhere, except for one -- Jansen, the closer.

“Kenley stays the same,” said Honeycutt. “That’s for sure.”

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.