The Dodgers are right back to losing. After dropping 15 out of 20 during one of the most dreadful stretches in recent memory, the Dodgers rebounded to win 12 of their next 13 games, which included a nice little eight-game winning streak. But after splitting a two-game series in Houston the Dodgers returned home to play four games against the nasty San Francisco Giants. After sweeping them in Oracle Park the Dodgers folded up like a beach chair, losing three of four and firmly now entrenched into third place in the NL West.
One of the reasons the Dodgers are chasing the Padres and Giants early in the season is due to massive amounts of injuries to the bullpen and bench. It’s also due to design flaws in the roster construction. Bullpen games are really hurting the Dodgers and there is nobody in the organization that can start a baseball game. Or is there?
The Dodgers entered the 2021 season with five starting pitchers, and two additional starters for depth. The rotation consisted of Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, Julio Urias, Walker Buehler, and Dustin May. Veteran David Price and Catman Tony Gonsolin were considered to be depth guys, with the Dodgers ultimately deciding that Price would be a full-time reliever while Gonsolin would be a spot starter/long-man. But then Gonsolin got hurt, and the Dodgers had already made up their mind about David Price, despite him being a starting pitcher his entire career.
But that was fine because the Dodgers had five healthy starters. Until they didn’t. Dustin May blew out his elbow and had to have Tommy John surgery, knocking him out for the rest of the season. That left a gaping hole in the rotation that either the Dodgers refuse to fill or were unable to fill. The leaky hole has sprung into a waterfall.
There’s nobody in the organization that can start, (other than Price) so the Dodgers have fully committed to using bullpen games when they are unable to skip the spot in the rotation with built-into the schedule off-days. The effect it is having on the pitching staff and the team in whole is bad overall.
Bullpen games are a terrible strategy, but especially when the team like the Dodgers has a poorly built bullpen. The Dodgers do. The club ranks thirteenth in bullpen ERA (3.90) and has now blown 15 save opportunities only 53 games into the season. They are actively using guys like Phil Bickford, and Alex Vesia in meaningful innings. It’s hard to watch.
The bullpen games negatively effect not only the game they start, but the next couple of games afterwards. When you burn the entire pen in one game, they are unavailable to pitch the next day, forcing the starting pitcher to pitch 8-9 innings. Here’s another terrifying thought. What if someone else gets hurt? What do the Dodgers do then? If there is an injury to another starter, the Dodgers would be forced to possibly do two bullpen games a week. That could be catastrophic.
The Dodgers have one of two potential options. Either they claim a starting pitcher off the waiver wire, or they insert David Price into the rotation for the immediate future. I do not mean just using Price for two innings and then bringing in Phil Bickford for three horrible frames. I mean actually letting David Price act as a real live starting pitcher, something he has excelled at (312 starts and over 2000 innings pitched over 13 seasons) for many years.
It’s possible Mitchell White could start a game or two as well, but it makes sense to hand the ball to a seasoned starter like Price to fill the gap. The Dodgers wouldn’t need Price to shoulder a heavy workload, just fill a spot so the club isn’t blowing through the mediocre bullpen once per week.