The Dodgers bullpen was turning a corner. Now, a spate of injuries has cut into its depth

A swarm of bees might have delayed the start of action.

But it was a disappearance of depth in the bullpen that stung the Dodgers most Tuesday night.

With the score tied in the ninth, and then with the Dodgers leading by one in the 10th, the club found itself with few appealing options against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Closer Evan Phillips was unavailable because of a heavy recent workload. Right-handers Joe Kelly and Daniel Hudson had been burned earlier in the game. Typically, that would mean a save opportunity for the other high-leverage relievers on the roster, such as Brusdar Graterol, Ryan Braiser or Blake Trienen. But each of those three was out with injuries.

So, with the game on the line, recent minor-league call-up Nabil Crismatt got the call instead.

Despite a clean ninth inning that forced the game into extras, Crismatt — a journeyman right-hander with his sixth team in six years — ultimately met the fate many Dodger fans would have feared.

Three pitches into the 10th, he left a changeup up that Christian Walker belted out. The two-run blast walked the Diamondbacks off for a 4-3 win.

“It’s just one of those days,” manager Dave Roberts said. “You’ve got to reset and pick up the pieces, as far as [who is available in] the ‘pen for tomorrow.”

Indeed, for at least the near future, situations similar to Tuesday might not be all that rare.

The Dodgers are nowhere near having their full complement of relievers at the moment. Much of the bullpen they envisioned entering the year is currently stuck on the injured list.

Graterol, last year’s primary set-up man, remains a long way off with a nagging shoulder injury, one that has sidelined him since the start of the year. Treinen, the former ace reliever who has hardly pitched at all the last two years, is nearing a return from a couple broken ribs, but will need at least two more minor-league rehab outings Wednesday and Thursday before he is cleared to return to the majors.

Like Trienen, who got hurt on a comebacker in spring training, Brasier suffered his own freak injury this week, when he felt something “blow up” in his calf while performing a normal set of pregame warm-up sprints.

“I felt like I was getting to a spot where I was feeling really good, so it’s obviously frustrating,” said Brasier, whose 4.63 ERA belied his importance to the bullpen.

While the team was still awaiting MRI results as of Tuesday, the Dodgers feared Brasier would face an extended absence. He compared this right calf strain to one he suffered in his left calf in 2021. That injury, he said, took close to two months to heal.

“He’s done his other one before, so it’s gonna be a while,” Roberts said. “It’s gonna be a slow process for him.”


Two games into Brasier’s absence, the Dodgers were already feeling the consequences.

On Monday night, the Dodgers held a four-run lead in the ninth, a spot that seemed tailor-made for Brasier — especially given his up-and-down performance early on. But the Dodgers elected to use Phillips, evidently uncomfortable trusting the only other available arm at that point — recently recalled right-hander Gus Varland — even in a non-save situation.

That outing marked Phillips’ fourth in seven days, with the closer getting heavy usage during the Dodgers’ recent six-game winning streak.

That ruled Phillips out for Tuesday (five relief outings in eight days is a red line not only for the Dodgers, but other clubs around MLB) and left Roberts with few options in the final innings of the game.

“We’re on the back end of nine [games] in a row, and when you win a lot of games, you use your leverage guys,” Roberts said. “That’s part of it. You’ve got to figure out ways to navigate.”

After summoning Michael Grove and Joe Kelly in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively, then watching Hudson blow a rare lead in the eighth, the manager had only Crismatt and Varland left to choose from once the game reached the ninth. He elected for Crismatt. Then, he watched on helplessly as the Diamondbacks snatched the game.

“That’s just where we were at,” Roberts said. “He threw up a zero that first inning, and unfortunately we couldn’t tack on more than one [run] in that 10th.”

This is where the Dodgers could be for a while, trying to mix and match a bridge to Hudson and Phillips on nights they’re available, or cover save situations in the games they’re being rested.

Roberts is hopeful Treinen’s return will help — though a 35-year-old with just five appearances over the last two seasons is hardly guaranteed a smooth reacclimation.

The Dodgers have also gotten high-leverage production from Grove (who has a 6.88 ERA overall, but a 3.00 ERA in the final three innings of games) and left-hander Alex Vesia (whose 1.76 ERA is second-best in the ‘pen behind Phillips, despite a 1.304 WHIP) of late, but they were never pegged for such key roles, either.

Instead, the Dodgers planned for Graterol, Brasier, Kelly and Hudson to be their key middle relievers this year. Now, Hudson represents the only non-injury worry, after Kelly tweaked his groin Tuesday — though not bad enough to leave the game — after fielding a ground ball in the seventh inning.

“We’ll just kind of see where he’s at [tomorrow] physically,” Roberts said, saying the team will reevaluate Kelly after Thursday’s off-day.

All the renewed injury concerns come just as the Dodgers seemed to be finding their footing in the bullpen. Following a woeful opening couple of weeks, when they ranked 20th in reliever ERA through their first 23 games, the bullpen had given up only two earned runs in more than 27 innings to begin this week’s road trip. Entering Tuesday, they were 12th in the majors with a 3.64 ERA.

But then, in the span of six outs, the dwindling depth caught up with them again. One of their few reliable relief arms faltered. One of their many risky ones got taken deep. And Roberts was left postgame with no choice but to look ahead.

“We’ve got to weather it,” Roberts said. “I’m sure we’ll be churning through some guys in the next couple weeks.”

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