Mark Prior: Dodgers’ Bullpen Games Create Challenges For Opposing Offenses

The Los Angeles Dodgers have deployed an unconventional six-man rotation this season, which has all been done in the name of giving their starters extra rest in between their starts.

Assisting Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s transition from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league to Major League Baseball was a big factor in this new plan of attack, but other members of the rotation with a history of injury and a multitude of starters on the injured list also played into the decision.

The Dodgers have had an unorthodox approach, by MLB standards, to scheduling their starters this year as they have utilized bullpen games every sixth start as a way to simulate a six-man rotation. It has not always been smooth sailing, as there were a lot of kinks that needed to be ironed out during the early part of the season.

Injuries heavily depleted the bullpen before the season began, and more came as the season progressed. This compounded the already increased workload on the bullpen and the result was not great for their ERA.

However, both the bullpen and the starters have found their rhythm and heavily contributed to the Dodgers’ recent stretch of dominance.

The Dodgers even see their bullpen games as somewhat of an advantage with pitching coach Mark Prior pointing out their benefits, via to Bill Plunkett of the Southern California Newsgroup:

“I do think if you talk to hitters and you talk to offensive coaches – it’s hard for them,” Prior said of the challenge bullpen games create for opponents. “You’re not seeing a guy for two, three times through the order. A lot of our offensive success is because we wear starters down and get into their bullpen early. That’s hard when you’re just running out different arms.”

The biggest beneficiary of the extra rest in between starts is obviously Yamamoto, who had spent seven seasons pitching once a week in Japan. However, it also helps the Dodgers manage Tyler Glasnow’s health, the other starting pitcher they acquired in the offseason.

Glasnow’s history with elbow issues has been well documented to this point, and the Dodgers figure that giving him some additional rest can only help keep him healthy throughout the long season. This was all taken into account when the Dodgers committed to having bullpen games:

“It’s sustainable as long as we need it to be sustainable,” Prior said. “In all honesty, a lot of that is predicated on Yamamoto’s schedule (pitching once a week in Japan) and making sure he gets acclimated to our schedule. And also, Tyler has had a history of some health stuff too so we want to be cautious of that. Obviously Bobby Miller is hurt now. Emmet (Sheehan) has been down. There’s a lot of situations that are lending themselves to where we want to give guys extra rest. We’ve had a bunch of off days to where you can get those as well.

“This is not a plan that got formulated on March 15. This is something where once the Yamamoto thing (contract) got finalized I think this is a plan that our front office has been preparing for and building the depth to make sure we can handle that and allow guys to pitch at their peak performance when they need to.”

It remains to be seen how the Dodgers will evolve this plan going forward as more and more of their pitchers hopefully return from the injured list as the season goes along.

The team’s plan to build as much starting pitching depth as possible has helped them navigate all of the injuries they’ve suffered up to this point, but that also means they have more quality Major League starters than available spots in the rotation.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto coming into his own with the Dodgers

The beginning of the 2024 season was not kind to Yamamoto and led to a rough start to his Dodgers career. Despite persisting issues allowing runs in the first inning, he has been slowly morphing into a quality member of the Dodgers rotation.

In his last seven games, he has a 4-0 record, a 2.59 ERA, 46 strikeouts, and a 1.01 WHIP across 41.2 innings.

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