Friday, June 14, 2024

Dodgers’ bullpen shines in NLDS Game 2 loss to Diamondbacks

Must read

LOS ANGELES ― After the Dodgers lost Game 1 of the National League Division Series, Manager Dave Roberts vowed to “manage Game 2 like it’s Game 7. And I’m going to do the same thing for Game 3.”

Monday, the Dodgers’ elimination-game strategy was revealed before an announced crowd of 51,449. The chorus of boos that greeted nearly every pitching change – there were four, beginning with starter Bobby Miller’s second-inning exit – combined bass notes of disappointment with a falsetto of incredulity.

But Roberts had no designs on winning a popularity contest, only a baseball game. Even that was just a tad out of reach in the Dodgers’ 4-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Now, the do-or-die nature of Game 3 is not a matter of choice for the Dodgers.

For a night at least, the “bullpen game” approach looked like the right one. The three runs Miller allowed in 1⅔ innings represented the difference between a win and a loss. And the four high-leverage relievers Roberts tasked with the final 7⅓ innings – Brusdar Graterol, Ryan Brasier, Joe Kelly and Evan Phillips – allowed four hits, only one run, and struck out nine.

“The bullpen was fantastic,” Roberts said. “Those guys gave us a chance to stay in the ballgame and to win. I can’t say enough about what they did. The series sets up well in terms of off-days, so they’ll all be available for Game 3.”

If Roberts’ own words were not enough to suggest a short leash was in store for Miller in Game 2, there was this: no bullpen in baseball had a lower ERA after the All-Star break than the Dodgers (2.26). Graterol (0.32), Brasier (0.31), Kelly (1.74) and Phillips (1.38) were among the best individual relievers during that stretch. They represented the strongest links in the strongest unit on the Dodgers’ pitching staff.

Miller fared slightly better than Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw, completing the first inning on 32 pitches. But the Diamondbacks began the second inning with the hardest hit allowed by any pitcher in Game 2, a 110-mph single off the bat of Evan Longoria.

By the time Tommy Pham was announced prior to his second plate appearance of the game, the Diamondbacks had runners on first and second base with two outs. Graterol was warm. Roberts decided Miller had faced his final batter.

“He wasn’t sharp for me,” Roberts said of Miller. “I thought he was getting behind (in counts). Those guys saw a lot of pitches. … Being down 3-0 in the first inning. … The second inning, recalling the at-bat Pham had on him (a line-drive single). The guy behind him, (Christian) Walker, really squared the ball up in his first at-bat. At that time we couldn’t go down 4-0. I wanted to give our team a chance to extend the game.”

The bullpen answered the call. Graterol retired Pham on one pitch, getting him to ground out on a 100-mph sinker. From there on out, the game was a fairly even match.

The Diamondbacks’ fourth and final run came on a solo home run by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. against Brasier in the sixth inning – and even that pitch was no beach ball. The down-and-away slider that landed in the left field bleachers yielded a .087 slugging percentage when thrown with two strikes in 2023, according to Inside Edge.

The Diamondbacks had runners in scoring position in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings but could not score. All three of their hits with runners in scoring position came against Miller.

Although the Dodgers are facing elimination after throwing “bullpen games” in Games 1 and 2, their relief pitchers have done little to dissuade Roberts from using the same strategy in Game 3.

More articles

Latest article