After Tuesday's 11-1 victory over the Miami Marlins, the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers are firing on all cylinders and their bullpen is posting zeroes quicker than fans can consume Dodger Dogs.
Los Angeles relievers fired another 3.1 scoreless innings last night and now post the second lowest bullpen ERA in the league at 1.94 (21 runs in 97 2/3 innings). Their ERA puts them behind their postseason rivals the St. Louis Cardinals, ironically the only team in baseball with a better win percentage than the Boys in Blue.
The Dodger bullpen leads the National League in opponents' batting average (.182), strikeouts (112), and WHIP (1.02). At home, the pen is even better as their 0.80 ERA leads the majors and is the monumental reason why they are a franchise best 15-2 at Chavez Ravine to start the season.
What makes the relievers success all the more surprising is that they've posted these numbers without setup man Brandon League and Kenley Jansen who have been out with injuries since early February.
Jansen has been the team's closer since 2012, and his strikeout rate is the second highest in history behind only San Diego Padres closer Craig Kimbrel. Yet with Jansen sidelined, the Dodgers bullpen hasn't skipped a beat striking out an average of 10.4 batters per nine innings.
One of the reasons's for the relievers' success is the meteoric rise of rookie Adam Liberatore. The Bellflower native turned 28 years old yesterday (May 12th) and has pitched 9.2 innings of scoreless baseball retiring 28 of the first 29 batters he's faced to start his major league career.
In his Dodgers debut, Liberatore struck out Colorado catcher Michael McKenry on a sneaky slider to close out the game and seal the 7-3 victory for Los Angeles on April 17th.
"That was the biggest crowd I've ever been in front of," said a smiling Liberatore still soaking in the moment.
His mixture of well-located fastballs that range anywhere from 93-97 MPH and sliders has baffled some of baseball's bests this season. His cool demeanor and composure on the mound is the main factor in why former Rays' Vice-President of Baseball Operations and Current Dodgers President, Andrew Friedman, brought him to LA in his first move after taking over.
"It's very rare in life when you have incredibly high expectations for someone and they actually exceed them," Friedman said.
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Liberatore was acquired on Nov. 20, 2014 from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Jose Dominguez and Greg Harris. After six years in the farm system he finally took a giant step forward in 2014. Liberatore went 6-1 with a 1.54 ERA and four saves in 54 games with the Triple-A Durham Bulls. His 86 punch-outs and 15 walks garnered him a Triple-A All-Star selection.
"It's been a long journey to get here. I've been getting ready for this moment for a while," said Liberatore of pitching in the majors this season. "The throwing part is easy."
Left-handers are hitting a paltry .176/.228/.243 against Liberatore and are striking out at an astronomical rate of 43 percent. In the last three seasons he has surrendered only one homer to a left-handed hitter and so far in 2015, he has not allowed a run on any level (spring training, Triple-A, and the major leagues).
When asked what the secret to his success was, the humble California boy smirked and said:
"There's no secret formula. I just try and go out and make good pitches. It's about knowing who you are, staying within yourself and not trying to do too much."
Liberatore is truly a diamond in the rough and could play a vital role in the Dodgers quest to reach the World Series this fall.