Tested over time, Pedro Baez remains a constant in Dodgers bullpen

first_imgSAN FRANCISCO — He has been the Dodgers reliever you loved to hate. But maybe he could be the Dodgers reliever you hate to love.Over the past five seasons, relievers have come (most recently Joe Kelly) and gone (Joe Blanton, Brandon Morrow, et al) as the Dodgers searched for a reliable setup man to serve as closer Kenley Jansen’s opening act.In that time, Pedro Baez has pitched in more high-leverage situations (289 plate appearances over 123 games) than every Dodgers reliever other than Jansen. And, despite your recency bias (look past Buster Posey’s walk-off single Wednesday night), he has performed very well in those situations. Opposing batters have hit just .214 (55 for 247) off Baez in high-leverage situations with only eight home runs over four-plus seasons.“I trust him because, No. 1, he’s obviously got stuff, elite stuff to get righties and lefties out,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Baez, whose fastball has averaged 96.5 mph over his career. “So now when you’re talking about lineups and how to navigate through lefties and righties – he’s got the stuff. And I just trust that he doesn’t let the emotion get the best of him in a certain moment in terms of trying to do too much. “It really didn’t affect me because as a pitcher you know the bad times are going to come,” Baez said. “You just simply have to be ready for that and continue to do your job, continue to go out there and try to help your team out.“They’re going to find someone to boo. I can’t really control what the fans do.”That attitude reflects the thick skin needed to be a major-league reliever. It was Roberts who was more vocal in his defense of Baez at the time, calling Dodgers fan “ridiculous” and “irresponsible” and saying it “pissed me off” to hear those boos from the home fans.Nearly two years later, Roberts still gets passionate when talking about it.“The thing that’s crazy is I just don’t understand how other guys struggle whether it’s on the offensive side or defensive side and they get so many passes,” Roberts said. “What’s sad to me is if you look at the way the world is today, I sort of equate it to Instagram followers or social media followers. So if (Baez) had a million followers because he was showing his crazy antics on there, they’d love him. But because he’s a professional and does things the right way and doesn’t do those other things – they don’t have a tie to him and they don’t give him a pass.”Baez shrugging off the experience is a sign that it “jaded” him, Roberts believes.“I don’t think it toughened him because he’s always been tough,” Roberts said. “That’s why if you look back at 2017 I got pretty defensive – because a guy that does everything the right way, takes the ball whenever you ask, the teammates love him – but there’s a language barrier where he can’t defend himself or say something. So there’s a one-sided opinion of him where he can’t vent himself.“I took it personal. I think that for him when he was at his lowest and struggling, for the organization he loves, to be received that way when he comes out of those (bullpen) gates when he’s at home – you don’t forget those moments. Whether he uses it as fuel or whatever, I just think it jaded him a little bit. How could it not?”Related Articles Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Fire danger is on Dave Roberts’ mind as Dodgers head to San Francisco How Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling topped the baseball podcast empire “It’s not a knock against any other people. But I know he doesn’t run from any moment.”Roberts’ trust is evident in the moments when he turns to Baez. Wednesday night’s matchup with Posey was the 394th time since 2015 that Baez has faced the No. 3, 4 or 5 hitter in the opposing team’s lineup. That is more even than Jansen (383 plate appearances since 2015).“I think he sees the confidence in me and I think that’s why he trusts that I’m going to be ready whenever he calls on me,” Baez said through an interpreter, his close friend Yimi Garcia listening in from the next locker. “It doesn’t matter what situation, I think he trusts that I’m going to come in and try to do my job.”Baez lost Roberts’ trust only once. Over a stretch of 25 appearances in the second half of the 2017 season, Baez allowed 18 runs on 24 hits (including six home runs) and 13 walks in 23 innings. Though he stabilized with four scoreless appearances to end the season (striking out seven of the final 17 batters he faced), Baez was left off the Dodgers’ postseason rosters during their run to the World Series.And fans made it clear he had lost their favor, booing him when he entered games at Dodger Stadium that September.center_img A third baseman when he began his professional career in the Dodgers’ minor-league system, Baez – now 31 years old and a potential free agent after the 2020 season – has become a more well-rounded pitcher, less reliant on his fastball. Working each winter in his native Dominican Republic, Baez has added a changeup to his fastball-slider combo with the help of Jackson Quezada (a pitching coach in the Padres’ farm system) and tips from long-time big-leaguer Fernando Rodney.That changeup became a significant part of his arsenal over the course of 2018. This season, Baez has thrown it nearly 40 percent of the time, using his fastball less than half the time after relying on it nearly two-thirds of the time previously in his career.Baez has grown “tremendously” as a pitcher, Jansen said, and understands now that throwing harder is not always the way out of trouble.“He’s more mature out there about making calls in the game, calling his own games, about what is his strength,” Jansen said. “He knows now he always has that changeup. He knows he can go up in the zone. He also has that slider. He has those pitches that he finally put together and learned how to use in situations.“In the big leagues, you can try that (throwing harder) but it’s not going to work. You have to have a gameplan.” Cody Bellinger homer gives Dodgers their first walkoff win of season Dodgers’ Max Muncy trying to work his way out of slow start Dodgers hit seven home runs, sweep Colorado Rockies last_img read more