Phil Bickford began 2021 with the Milwaukee Brewers but the Ventura, Calif. native found his way back to Southern California early in the season.
A first-round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2015, Bickford was traded to the Brewers in 2016 for closer Will Smith.
In 2020, Bickford made his debut for the Brewers but allowed four runs in one inning. In 2021, he threw one more inning for them and allowed two runs before getting designated for assignment at the end of April.
Bickford was claimed by the Dodgers in early May but he was sent to Triple-A Oklahoma City on May 5. He did not have much success at Triple-A, posting a 5.40 ERA in five innings, though got recalled on May 23.
From that point and on, Bickford quickly — and surprisingly — established himself as a key piece in the Dodgers bullpen.
He didn’t allow an earned run in his first eight appearances and after one poor outing in June, went another eight games without allowing an earned run.
“I knew nothing about him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said when asked about the right-hander. “He has been one of the biggest joys of the season.
“He’s been a Dodger fan, he’s very grateful, he’s a hard worker, he’s got that edge. He’s a sweetheart of a guy, but when he takes the baseball, he’s a savage. Guys love him. He’s one of those guys that I don’t know where we would be without him.”
Bickford also made a change in his pitch usage that could be behind his breakout.
Before the Dodgers acquired him, Bickford was throwing his fastball 80% of the time, which resulted in it getting hit around a lot. Once he started pitching for L.A., that usage was cut by 20%, which resulted in his slider usage doubling to around 40%.
The results improved his success when he threw his fastball as batters only hit .193 on it during the season, while batting .203 off his slider.
With the Dodgers, Bickford threw 50.1 innings, pitching to a 2.50 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 10.55 strikeouts per nine, 3.22 walks per nine and became someone Roberts could rely upon in big moments.
Bickford’s success continued into the postseason as he threw six innings, only allowed four hits, allowed no runs, struck out four and walked none.
Bickford’s 2021 highlight
Bickford was at his best in the month of August. He threw 14 innings and only allowed three earned runs (1.93 ERA) while striking out 19 and walking four. He also picked up a win and four holds.
His only poor outing during the month came in a 7-2 loss against the New York Mets, during which he allowed two runs in one inning.
Entering the 2022 season, Bickford should again be expected to be a key member of the Dodgers bullpen.
With the potential departure of Kenley Jansen, Bickford could see more time pitching in high-leverage to help replace Blake Treinen, who presumably would take over as the closer.
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