You hear it – and see it on social media – Dodger fans everywhere are saying, “I don’t believe it, but Pedro Baez is my favorite bullpen pitcher.” That’s a huge turnaround for a lot of folks to compute and accept.
If you’ve been a Dodgers fan for longer than this season, you know just how much heat, and at times outright hate, was thrown at Baez from his home field fans. Back in late 2017, and at times in early 2018, Baez was heartily booed at Dodger Stadium. Things were so bad, he didn’t even have to do anything wrong, he was automatically booed when he was announced as coming into the game. It must have taken every bit of professionalism and heart Baez has to bear the weight of those boos and focus on the job at hand.
For years (2018 included) the Dodgers have searched for the bridge to Kenley Jansen. Pedro Baez looked like he could be that guy. He showed electric stuff, and at times, he was unhittable. Trouble was, when Pedro Baez failed, it was spectacular, and more often than not, it came at the worst possible time.
By the end of the 2017 regular season, Baez was persona non grata at Chavez Ravine. He was as welcome as a tax audit.
This is from an article I wrote here last Sept. 20, “You May be Done with Pedro Baez, but the Dodgers Aren’t (nor should they be)”. This from the day after Baez’s last game appearance of the 2017 season, and one of his most spectacular implosions:
“Chances are, Pedro Baez sealed his 2017 fate in his abysmal outing last night against the Philadelphia Phillies. Baez’s 2/3 of an inning was a microcosm of his season: There was frustration and angst mixed with flashes of hope. Dave Roberts, his manager, faithfully stuck with him through all of it, but in the end, Baez flickered out and couldn’t finish, leaving behind a mess in his wake.
Baez faced seven batters. He gave up a triple, a double, walked two (including a bases loaded walk), and he hit a batter. In the end, he gave up four runs. Yes, it was painful to watch. Yes, plenty of folks questioned Roberts’ mental state for throwing Baez into the fire in a game the Dodgers led by only one run.
It was the right move at the right time.”
Baez was left off the Dodgers’ 2017 postseason rosters, as his 6.52 career postseason ERA wasn’t welcome on a team with a mission to get to the World Series. Yet, the Dodgers’ decision-makers saw something in Baez they were not ready to give up on – and I wasn’t willing to give up on him either.
However, 2018 didn’t begin as a magic season for Pedro. He spent six weeks on the DL with biceps tendonitis. When he returned to the pen, he struggled with an 8.35 ERA over his next six appearances, and the Baez Groaning and Chowder Society was in full effect. Then, something inside Baez clicked. Those flashes of brilliance he showed earlier eventually spanned beyond one or two batters, and began stretching across full innings of relief. He’s only allowed one earned run since August.
Baez has risen to become the star of the Dodgers’ bullpen. Once unwanted by the Dodgers in the postseason, Baez was the man Dave Roberts turned to in a “must hold” situation in the seventh inning of last night’s Game 2 of the NLCS. Down by one run, and with the top of the Brewers lineup due to come up, Baez was the man with the golden arm. He got a quick out followed by a walk. Dodger fans everywhere held their collective breath, but he got Milwaukee’s big guns, Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun, to fly out and end the inning.
With the Dodgers ahead for the first time in the game (Justin Turner hit a 2-run home run in the top of the inning), Roberts sent Baez out to start the eighth, and he did not let his skipper down. He struck out PH Domingo Santana, and job well done, Roberts lifted him. Pedro Baez had just earned his first postseason win.
Baez struck out Santana with the newest weapon in his arsenal – a perfected change up. That pitch has made all the difference this season, changing Pedro from the last man chosen, to the most trusted arm in the bullpen (and that includes Kenley Jansen). That said, perhaps the biggest transformation has been his ability to change the boos into cheers from the Dodgers faithful, and dread into high fives from his teammates.
My article from 2017 stated Roberts kept his struggling pitcher in that game, despite his troubles, as a test of his pitcher’s heart. Pedro Baez has changed plenty since that night. It seems one thing that hasn’t changed is Pedro Baez’s strong Blue heart.