Cleavinger is the most notable out of the seven players sent down on Tuesday. The left-hander was acquired from the Phillies over the offseason and was competing for one of the last open spots in the Dodgers’ bullpen. He has made seven appearances this spring, posting a 5.40 ERA with 12 strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings of work.
The left-hander has shown an increase in velocity throughout the spring. He projects to be a key depth piece for the Dodgers over the course of the season.
With Cleavinger being optioned, the Dodgers’ bullpen picture becomes that much clearer. The Dodgers now have 20 pitchers left on their Spring Training roster. That number drops to just 15 pitchers when considering that Brandon Morrow, Mitch White, Tommy Kahnle, Brusdar Graterol and Joe Kelly won’t be ready for Opening Day due to injuries. Non-roster invitee Enny Romero will also likely not make the roster, giving the Dodgers 14 realistic options.
The Dodgers will have to choose two starters from the pool that includes David Price, Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May. Manager Dave Roberts sees a world where all four pitchers are on the Opening Day roster, with two of them starting the season in the bullpen, saying there’s a “good chance” of that happening.
The Dodgers haven’t finalized how many pitchers they'll carry on Opening Day in Colorado, but it’s becoming increasingly likely they start the season with 13 pitchers, especially if all four starting options are on the roster. In that case, that leaves three pitchers battling for two spots: Dennis Santana, Jimmy Nelson and Scott Alexander.
How will having all four pitchers on the roster, with two of them going to the bullpen, affect the decisions in the bullpen? Roberts doesn’t think it’ll have any impact.
“I think that having three guys, ultimately, in our ‘pen that give us length -- meaningful length -- that can get left and right out, that could potentially enter in the middle of a game and potentially finish a game to keep them built up serves a lot of purposes. I don’t think this is necessarily a dilemma. It’s a good situation that we have.”
Roberts is right. It’s a first-class problem for the Dodgers, but still one they have to clear up over the next nine days. Of the three pitchers that are seemingly still on the roster bubble, Nelson appears to be the frontrunner to land one of the two spots. Because Nelson is a non-roster invitee, the Dodgers could run the risk of losing him at some point this season if he’s not on the Opening Day roster. Nelson has said he isn’t even thinking about the opt-out date in his contract because he believes he’ll be on the roster.
Besides that, Nelson has been one of the pleasant surprises this spring and has said he feels completely healthy for the first time since 2017, when he had his best season with the Brewers.
If Nelson secures one of the bullpen spots, as expected, the final decision could come down to Santana and Alexander. Then it all comes down to preference for the Dodgers. Santana is a right-hander. Alexander is a lefty.
With multiple starters in the bullpen and plenty of other relief options, the Dodgers have hinted that they won’t make their final decisions based on righty or lefty preference. But at least, the roster decisions are becoming more clear for the Dodgers.
“We’re in a good spot,” Roberts said.