Relievers shine as Dodgers split with Astros

September 14th, 2020

When most clubs are forced into a “bullpen game,” it’s an emergency. When the Dodgers parade relievers every inning, it’s a strategic advantage.

Rebounding from closer ’s Saturday night meltdown, they won their second bullpen game in 2 1/2 weeks on Sunday, an 8-1 decision over the Astros at Dodger Stadium, powered by home runs from , and .

With Walker Buehler on the injured list for a finger blister, the Dodgers deployed eight relievers in his place, opening with triple-digit flamethrower and finishing with Jansen. The 22-year-old Graterol had no trouble adapting to the first-inning role, striking out the side despite allowing a two-out single to Michael Brantley, and finishing with 12 pitches (11 strikes).

“The guys responded; we put them in situations where they matched up well and individually they did the job,” said manager Dave Roberts. “It started with Brusdar setting the tone.”

It ended with Jansen, who breezed through a 1-2-3 ninth inning after sending Dodger Nation spiraling into a frantic panic by allowing five runs in the ninth inning on Saturday.

Roberts, though, kept the faith. He said he planned to come back with Jansen on Sunday, even though it means the award-winning closer will be shut down on Monday, when the Dodgers open their most meaningful series of the year against second-place San Diego.

“Really good tonight, the conviction, the execution, all that stuff was plus-plus across the board,” Roberts said of Jansen.

In addition to Graterol and Jansen, the Dodgers used relievers Josh Sborz, Victor González, Jake McGee, Dylan Floro, Alex Wood and Caleb Ferguson. González (3-0) was the only one who pitched two innings and was credited with the victory, the others one each. The only run came on a Springer home run off Floro. Houston had only four hits.

The Dodgers bullpen is 20-10 with a 2.71 ERA, best in the league. Seven Dodgers relievers threw seven scoreless innings in the second game of a doubleheader in San Francisco on Aug. 27, a 2-0 win on two hits.

“This is the deepest, most talented bullpen by a full grade that we’ve ever had,” said Roberts. “We just got [Pedro Báez] back [from the injured list], we’re going to get Joe [Kelly] back here soon [from suspension]. Guys are having tremendous years. Guys that get left and right out, have speciality pitches that are unique. All that stuff, the best we’ve seen.”

Roberts didn’t even rule out the possibility of a modified bullpen game in the postseason. The current Dodgers rotation beyond Clayton Kershaw is either dealing with injuries, is unproven starting in October, or both.

“Obviously, it’s difficult to navigate 27 outs with seven relievers, but you can optimize their strengths with hitters’ weaknesses,” Roberts said. “It’s the players buying in and feeling confident when we give them the baseball. I can see something like that in the postseason. It’s not ideal to continue that model over a long time, but certainly one or a couple games, I certainly believe in it.”

The good news continued to flow after the game, when Roberts said he expects Dustin May (left foot contusion) to start on Wednesday. May threw a bullpen session and passed defensive tests for the green light.