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Dodgers get relief of another kind: Bullpen on its best roll of the season

August 27, 2010 |  7:03 am
He’s said it over and over, said it so many times you can hear it coming, can finish the sentence for him.

It’s the Joe Torre refrain: We’re only going to be as good as our pitching.

The Dodgers’ starters have been good for awhile now, but pitching means the entire staff, the bullpen too often inconsistent.

Only don’t look now, but guess which unit is suddenly acting like a team strength?

Every arm in the bullpen is suddenly looking reliable. With only slight exceptions, each reliever has been on a roll for most of the last two weeks. Yes, I’m talking about the Dodgers bullpen.

There are several reasons: health, starters going deeper into games, Torre finally swapping his closer and setup man, the addition of Octavio Dotel, the emergence of rookie phenom Kenley Jansen.

But at this moment, all the pieces are clicking. And more often, Torre is using his relievers in situational relief. Thursday when the bases were loaded with one out in the fifth, he successfully brought in Ronald Belisario for Ryan Braun and George Sherrill for Prince Fielder.

"That's why they are a good team," Fielder said. "Good move, bring in tough guys out of the bullpen to shut it down a little bit. That's what they get paid to do. Sometimes, they make mistakes. Sometimes, they don't."

They made plenty earlier in the season.

Sherrill had fallen so far off his dominating ’09 season (0.65 ERA), I said back on June 29 that the Dodgers needed to ask him to go back to triple-A. Torre had unfailing patience with the left-hander. Now he’s allowed a run in only one of his last six appearances. In four of those appearances, he was only asked to face one batter.

Jonathan Broxton, who lost his closer role to Hong-Chih Kuo, has also allowed runs in only one of his last six appearances.

And on it goes.

Dotel has allowed one run in his last nine games. Jansen continues to amaze, sporting a 0.77 ERA -- that’s one earned run in 11 2/3 innings (with 17 strikeouts). Belisario came back from his unexplained one-month absence and gave up four earned runs in consecutive appearances, and hasn’t allowed a run since (five games).  Kuo is 5-for-5 in save opportunities and has allowed runs just once in his last 10 appearances. Even Jeff Weaver pitched a perfect ninth in his return from the disabled list Thursday.

"Nothing against the starters, but I think the overuse there for a while got to everybody, really,’’Sherrill told ESPN/LA.com’s Tony Jackson. "But the starters hit their stride and started giving us more innings, and we were kind of able to mix and match for a couple of weeks there. It was a good chance for all of us to catch our breath and be able to relax and take a whole day off here and there and come back out when they needed us.’’

It could all end this weekend in Colorado. Right now, though, the Torre refrain is looking better than it has at any time this season.

-- Steve Dilbeck
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