Depth, dominance of LA 'pen 'hard to fathom'

October 7th, 2020

Walker Buehler was midway through answering a question about his performance when he paused to redirect the spotlight to his bullpen, which allowed only one hit over five scoreless innings in the Dodgers' 5-1 win over the Padres in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington on Tuesday night.

"Before you guys ask me," Buehler said, "it's hard to fathom what Dustin May, Victor [González], [Blake] Treinen and then Kenley [Jansen] did. To come out and shut them down like that is a testament to what we do here. I've got a lot of pride being a part of this."

Buehler, who has been dealing with a blister on his right index finger, needed a season-high 95 pitches to get through four innings against the Padres’ dangerous offense, but the Dodgers had no issue navigating the remainder of the game. May took over in the fifth and rode his 100 mph sinker to two perfect innings, serving as a key bridge to Los Angeles’ back-end arms.

The Padres, by contrast, couldn’t overcome an even shorter start from right-hander Mike Clevinger, who recorded only three outs before exiting with an elbow injury in the second inning. San Diego was forced to use nine pitchers in an unexpected bullpen game, with the Dodgers finally staging a decisive four-run rally in the sixth.

The Dodgers once again showed why their pitching depth could ultimately separate them during this best-of-five series, which will be played in five days if necessary. Buehler struggled with his command, tallying four walks in his second consecutive four-inning outing in the postseason, but he managed to limit the damage to an RBI single by Austin Nola. Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts then had the luxury of summoning May, another electric arm, to cover multiple innings out of the bullpen.

The strategy mirrored the Dodgers’ approach to Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series against the Brewers, when they started Buehler before bringing in lefty Julio Urías for three scoreless innings. May, 23, struck out three of the six batters he faced while throwing 27 pitches, leaving him potentially available to start a game later on in the series.

“With Clayton [Kershaw] going tomorrow, I think the idea was for Dustin to take on a run tonight to have him available for [Game] 3,” Roberts said. “We’ll figure out what capacity, if it’s a start or coming out of the ‘pen.”

May set the tone for the bullpen’s dominant effort, but González, Treinen and Jansen impressed as well. The only baserunner allowed by the four relievers came in the eighth, when Trent Grisham delivered a leadoff double off González. Treinen subsequently came in and retired the next four batters before giving way to Jansen, who recorded the final two outs of the ninth to seal the Dodgers’ win.

After leading the NL with a 2.74 ERA during the regular season, the Dodgers’ bullpen has now posted 11 scoreless innings over the club’s first three games in the playoffs.

“At the end of the day, you hand the ball off and you feel good about what’s going to come out of there,” Buehler said.