Dodgers' bullpen-game blueprint gets the job done vs. Giants

April 3rd, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- Coming into the winter, the Dodgers’ main focus -- at least in the non-Shohei Ohtani category -- was to upgrade the starting rotation. They were aggressive enough to land Tyler Glasnow via trade and Yoshinobu Yamamoto and James Paxton via free agency.

But even with the added emphasis on stocking up on as many starters as possible, the Dodgers always envisioned doing the occasional bullpen game, especially early in the season while Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw recovered from injuries.

Bullpen games aren’t unusual for the Dodgers. It’s something they’ve done for more than half a decade. The first test run of the 2024 season didn’t always look pretty, but it was still effective enough to help the Dodgers beat the Giants, 5-4, on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.

“We’re used to bullpen games, we’ve done plenty of them before,” said Dodgers closer . “I think we take a lot of pride in trying to put a little more emphasis on winning that game when it’s our job to go out there and take care of it.”

Offensively, Mookie Betts, Gavin Lux and Kiké Hernández led the charge for the Dodgers. Betts continued his unreal start to the season, pounding his fifth homer in just eight games for the 1,500th hit of his career. Betts is putting together one of the best stretches of his career, giving the pitching staff plenty of room to work with.

That was all particularly important on Tuesday as the Dodgers went with a bullpen game against Giants ace Logan Webb.

With the Giants having right-handed hitters Matt Chapman and Jorge Soler near the top of their lineup, the Dodgers decided to start to serve as the opener. Brasier excels against righties and was able to get through the first inning without allowing a run.

“Brais, as a veteran reliever, to do the [second] opening of his career, doesn't balk at that,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “Those are things that, there's the buy-in. So for me, when you get talent, you get the buy-in, then you can sort of put the pieces to best suit them."

Behind Brasier was left-hander , who is perhaps the biggest piece to the puzzle for the Dodgers whenever they roll out a bullpen game. Yarbrough was the original “bulk guy” when the Rays began using the opener during the '18 season and has experience starting games and coming out of the bullpen to provide length.

Yarbrough’s role with the Dodgers this year will be similar to what it was with the Rays. He’s the most versatile arm in the bullpen. The left-hander struggled a bit, particularly at the end of his stint, but did exactly what was asked of him. He gave the Dodgers 4 1/3 innings of work, allowing them to get deeper into the bullpen.

“I think the biggest thing from early on in my career was, treat it as a starter but you had a guy come in front of you, so you knew you were gonna throw multiple [innings],” Yarbrough said. “I don’t know if I’ll have a direct answer about how it will be going forward, but I think it will be pretty fluid and based off workload and where we’re at.”

Once Yarbrough ran into trouble, the Dodgers turned to , who was off to another tough start. Vesia, however, was able to get Austin Slater and Patrick Bailey out to end a big threat in the sixth. , who can also give the Dodgers length out of the bullpen, then took over with 1 2/3 innings.

Finally, the Dodgers gave the ball to closer Phillips for the last four outs of the game. Phillips shut the door, giving the Dodgers a blueprint of what these games might look like this season.

“You kind of sit tight a little bit more than you should, and it is a good feeling when you can win a game like that,” Roberts said. “We led a lot of that game, so I don’t want to say steal it. To know that you’ve got [Tyler Glasnow] going tomorrow with a chance to win three against a division rival, it’s a good feeling right now.”