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Bridging gap to Jansen key for Dodgers

Relievers have turned it up a notch after All-Star break

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers have Kenley Jansen as their closer, one of the more consistent stoppers in the game, but bridging the gap between starter and closer has been a question at times this season.

With the National League Division Series against the Mets getting underway on Friday at 6:30 p.m. PT on TBS, the bullpen is one area that could cause trouble for Los Angeles.

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The Dodgers were 19th in the Majors in bullpen ERA for the regular season -- Texas was the only playoff team that was ranked lower. The unit showed improvement in the second half with the emergence of Chris Hatcher, who has earned a home in the eighth inning. Hatcher was dismal in the first half of the season, posting a 6.38 ERA in 18 1/3 innings. After returning to the club from an oblique injury that sidelined him for two months, Hatcher has a 1.31 ERA and six holds.

"I'm getting the results. I'm not throwing like a different pitcher. I've just kind of evolved as a pitcher," Hatcher said. "Slowing guys down, speeding guys up and bouncing around the strike zone."

One of the lingering questions of the Dodgers' playoff roster was if they would take seven or eight relievers. That question appears to be answered as Joel Peralta said Thursday that he was on the NLDS roster, while Juan Nicasio and Carlos Frias were not.

While Nicasio's 3.83 ERA trumps Peralta's 4.34 ERA, Peralta has had the hot hand recently, holding a 2.25 ERA in his last seven outings while Nicasio has a 7.71 ERA in his last nine appearances. In addition, Mets sluggers Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes are a combined 1-for-15 against Peralta in their careers.

"He got healthy and his velocities clicked up to 90-91 [mph]," manager Don Mattingly said. "I know that's not a big number for a lot of relievers, but for him to get from 88, 89 to 90, 91 sometimes 92 is a big difference for his pitch mix."

The 39-year-old Peralta could bring experience to an otherwise green unit. Only J.P. Howell has more than seven appearances in the postseason with 23, mainly from his 2008 run to the World Series with the Rays.

"When you're younger, you're more anxious and get more nervous, but here it's more of an opportunity to enjoy it more," Howell said. "Back in the day, it was just rolling quick, but at this stage of the game, it's easier to go one pitch at a time."

However, Howell and Pedro Baez were lackluster in last year's postseason: Howell had a 13.50 ERA in three outings and Baez had a 7.71 ERA in two appearances. Two appearances in the NLDS last year are the only playoff experience of Baez's career, while Hatcher and Yimi Garcia will be making their playoff debuts.

"Honestly, I don't feel like it's any different game. We're playing 27 outs and I don't think there's any more pressure," Hatcher said. "Granted, I haven't played a game yet, so I couldn't tell you. Everybody talks about, 'The postseason is the postseason.' Well, it's still the game we've been playing our whole life."

Steve Bourbon is an associate reporter for
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