Brusdar Graterol has elite stuff, but he’s not yet Dodgers’ closer

The mix of nitro-fueled fastball and nickname doesn’t merely counsel that Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol has the makings of an enormous league nearer. It screams it.

The burly right-hander has a nasty two-seam sinking fastball that averaged 99.8 mph with 20 inches of drop and 15 inches of left-to-right break final season and a four-seamer that averaged 99.4 mph and touched 102.5 mph.

“He’s acquired the most effective stuff on the planet,” Dodgers reliever Alex Vesia mentioned.

And a moniker to match. Graterol’s Minnesota Twins teammates dubbed him “Bazooka” when he broke into the majors in 2019 as a result of the ball appears to blow up out of his hand as if shot from a rocket launcher.

“I believe it’s the proper nickname for me,” Graterol mentioned.

However till Graterol can get left-handed hitters out with extra consistency, develop a more practical slider to maintain hitters off his fastball and keep away from the nagging accidents that derailed him the final two seasons, he won’t be referred to as “nearer.”

Graterol has held right-handed hitters to a .202 common, .512 on-base-plus-slugging share and two homers in 292 plate appearances over 4 large league seasons, however left-handers have hit .294 with an .847 OPS and 5 homers in 183 plate appearances in opposition to him.

The 24-year-old Venezuelan threw a cut-fastball — principally to left-handers — that averaged 95.6 mph with a 22-inch drop however nearly no horizontal break final season, which is why batters hit .302 (13 for 43) on the cutters they put in play.

“He actually has the mindset and the stuff to shut, however there’s a neutrality to being a devoted nearer,” supervisor Dave Roberts mentioned, alluding to the necessity for ninth-inning specialists to be efficient in opposition to each lefties and righties. “We’re persevering with to work on making him extra of a impartial pitcher.”

The Dodgers will open the season with out a designated nearer. Proper-hander Evan Phillips, their only and sturdy reliever final season, will pitch in a very powerful conditions. Daniel Hudson will even be a significant a part of the group, however he isn’t more likely to be prepared for the beginning of the season due to lingering knee and ankle accidents.

Graterol and the left-handed Vesia and Caleb Ferguson will pitch in high-leverage conditions, however Graterol might additionally seize a ninth-inning position.

“Yeah, it’s proper there in entrance of him, so go forward and take it,” assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness mentioned. “His ceiling is as excessive as he desires it to go. He’s a really arduous employee. He’s among the best athletes I’ve ever seen. He fields so nicely he might win a Gold Glove. For him, it’s only a matter of going out and executing.”

Graterol notched the primary 4 saves of his profession final season. Roberts wouldn’t rule out the opportunity of Graterol closing, however the supervisor usually prefers to make use of him in opposition to a run of robust right-handed hitters whatever the inning.

“The underside line is I belief Brusdar in any scenario,” Roberts mentioned. “You may argue that a number of the spots I’ve put him in are extra leverage than a three-run save scenario within the ninth. Folks get caught up loads in a job and really feel that’s their worth. That’s one thing as a coach that I’ve to navigate and perceive.”

Brusdar Graterol pitches in opposition to the San Diego Padres in Recreation 2 of the Nationwide League Division Sequence in October.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Instances)

The 6-foot-1, 262-pound Graterol has appeared sharp this spring, giving up 5 hits, placing out 4 and strolling one in 5 innings of 5 video games, together with Saturday’s scoreless inning in opposition to the Chicago White Sox by which his slider had higher depth.

The slider averaged 90.6 mph with a 30-inch drop and seven-inch, right-to-left break final season, and Graterol held opponents to a .158 common (six for 38) in at-bats ending with the pitch. However Roberts believes a greater slider will enhance Graterol’s modest strikeout charge of seven.2 whiffs per 9 innings.

“He’s been looking out to seek out the suitable form of that breaking ball,” Roberts mentioned. “Hopefully he can discover one thing he likes and might be in keeping with as a result of the fastball command is elite. Hopefully he can discover one thing he can belief to go to in an enormous spot, that offers him the speed differential we’re in search of.

“When he’s on the mound, all the pieces’s arduous. If in case you have one thing to sluggish the hitters down a bit, to get them off the fastball and cutter, it creates extra upside.”

For all of the tinkering and fine-tuning this spring, Graterol has one objective getting into the season: “To remain wholesome all 12 months,” he mentioned. He didn’t in 2021 and 2022.

Graterol, acquired from Minnesota for starter Kenta Maeda in February 2020, averted damage in his first season in Los Angeles, going 1-2 with a 3.09 ERA in 23 video games of pandemic-shortened 2020 and yielding three earned runs in 7⅔ innings of 9 playoff recreation to assist the Dodgers win the World Sequence.

He went 3-0 with a 4.59 ERA in 34 video games in 2021, shedding three weeks of April to COVID-19, all of Might to proper forearm tightness and all of June to a demotion to triple A for what Roberts referred to as, on the time, “ending college.”

Graterol discovered his bearings by October and pitched in eight of 12 postseason video games in 2021, permitting one run and 4 hits, placing out seven and strolling none in 9 innings.

He went 2-4 with a 3.26 ERA and 4 saves in 46 video games in 2022, placing out 43 and strolling 10 in 49 ⅔ innings, however missed two months due to shoulder and elbow accidents.

His ceiling is as excessive as he desires it to go. He’s a really arduous employee. He’s among the best athletes I’ve ever seen. He fields so nicely he might win a Gold Glove.

— Connor McGuiness, Dodgers assistant pitching coach, on Brusdar Graterol

There was some hypothesis that as a result of Graterol has a shorter stride and generates a lot of his torque along with his higher physique, he’s placing extra stress on his shoulder and elbow. However the Dodgers don’t have any plans to vary his mechanics.

“It’s arduous to say {that a} mechanical change goes to stop accidents any time a man is throwing 100 mph,” McGuiness mentioned. “I believe you run down a slippery slope attempting to vary somebody’s stride size or something like that, particularly given his throw.”

Graterol didn’t assume his weight was a difficulty, however modifications to his winter coaching routine — he labored out 3 times a day most days, with extra stretching and cardio — and his weight loss program helped him trim down from 285 kilos to 262.

“My weight was up, however my velo was there — I used to be throwing 102-103 mph,” Graterol mentioned. “However I do really feel a lot better. I really feel like I can do all the pieces simpler.”

Teammates seen the burden loss instantly. “I noticed him the primary day of spring coaching,” Vesia mentioned, “and I mentioned, ‘You got here able to go this 12 months.’ ” Roberts mentioned the burden loss didn’t essentially present an elevated dedication. “I’d say it exhibits his maturity,” Roberts mentioned.

McGuiness isn’t positive whether or not or how Graterol will profit from being lighter.

“It might assist him doubtlessly construct up a correct basis to face up to the total season and assist him form of get well a little bit higher,” McGuiness mentioned. “However there’s an argument that being a little bit heavier coming into the 12 months might be useful as nicely. So there are two sides of that coin.”

The Dodgers had a longtime nearer for a decade when Kenley Jansen held the position from 2012 to 2021, and so they entered 2022 with veteran nearer Craig Kimbrel as their ninth-inning specialist.

Late-game pitching choices will probably be primarily based extra on matchups than outlined roles this season, however whether or not he’s nearer, setup man or quick reliever, Graterol will probably be an necessary a part of the combo.

“Doc’s gonna preserve placing him in there in large conditions, and we’ll want him to be wholesome the entire 12 months,” Vesia mentioned of Graterol. “He’s gonna be an enormous a part of our bullpen, whether or not it’s within the seventh or eighth or ninth inning.”