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Dodgers' bullpen, from a weakness to a team strength

August 13, 2013|By Steve Dilbeck
  • Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has retired 32 of the last 33 batters he's faced.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has retired 32 of the last 33 batters he's… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

The Dodgers have turned a lot of things around of late, and what led to which is fun speculation, if still chicken-or-egg material.

The Dodgers are winning like crazy right now and plenty of different components have gone into that, but no shortage of attention should be given to the way the bullpen is currently pitching.

“It’s a joke,” said Clayton Kershaw. “They’ve just been awesome.”

The bullpen has not allowed a run in 16 consecutive innings. During the Dodgers’ 21-3 run since the All-Star break, their relievers have posted a 1.69 ERA. They’ve helped the Dodgers win 11 consecutive one-run games.

An uncertainty early in the season, the bullpen has become a team pillar.

“Everybody is doing their jobs,” said left-hander Paco Rodriguez. “It’s just a matter of filling innings and keeping those zeros on the board. It’s been huge.”

The momentum is unmistakable, though its origin may not be too difficult to identify. Things began to turn around when Manager Don Mattingly switched Kenley Jansen back to closer June 11, demoting Brandon League, his $21-million contract notwithstanding.

And Jansen has been almost automatic. He has retired 32 of his last 33 batters. He has converted his last 11 consecutive save opportunities and lowered his ERA from 3.63 on May 19 to 1.96. He has struck out 15 of his last 20 batters.

With Jansen locked in as the closer, everyone else fell into their roles.

“Really once Kenley got back there, it’s been kinda lights out for everybody,” Kershaw said. “Everybody just kind of got on a roll. Everybody has just been fulfilling their role nicely.”

Ronald Belisario and Rodriguez have become reliable as set-up men. League emerged from his earlier funk. J.P. Howell can act as a left-handed specialist or go an inning-plus. Rookie Chris Withrow has been a hard-throwing, reliable long man. If Carlos Marmol remains an unknown, things could yet improve when ex-Giants closer Brian Wilson is brought up, possibly as soon as this weekend.

“Everybody is 100 percent,” Belisario said. “Everybody helps. We started winning and we started pitching good. [Earlier] it was like almost everybody was in a slump. I was one of them. We came out of that place and started doing good.”

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