Brousdar Gratherol has elite stuff, but he’s not closer to the Dodgers yet

The combination of the nitrogen-fueled fastball and the nickname doesn’t just suggest that the Dodgers pitcher Brousdard Graterol has the makings of a major league closer. It screams it.

The hefty right-hander has a nasty two-seam sinking fastball that hit 99.8 mph last season with a 20-inch drop and a 15-inch gap from left to right, as well as a four-seam that averaged 99.4 miles per hour. hour and was touching 102.5 mph.

“He has the best things on the planet” Dodgers pitcher Alex Vesia said.

And the nickname is appropriate. Graterol’s Minnesota Twins teammates dubbed him “Bazooka” when he broke into the majors in 2019 because the ball seems to be blasting out of his hand like it was fired from a rocket launcher.

“I think it’s the perfect nickname for me,” Graterol said.

But until Graterol can bring out left-handed hitters with more consistency, develop a more effective slider to keep hitters off his fastball, and avoid the nagging injuries that have derailed him over the last two seasons, he won’t be called “closer.” “.

Over four major league seasons, the right-handed hitter had a .202 average, .512 slugging percentage and two homers in 292 plate games, but the left-hander hit .294 with .847 OPS and five homers in 183 games against him.

The 24-year-old Venezuelan threw a krat fastball — mostly to lefties — at an average of 95.6 mph with a 22-inch drop but little to no horizontal break last season, so batters were hitting .302 (13 of 43) on cutters who they put into play.

“He certainly has the mindset and everything it takes to close, but there is neutrality in being committed closer,” manager Dave Roberts said, hinting at the need for ninth-inning specialists to be effective against both left-handers and and against righties. “We’re continuing to work on making him a more neutral pitcher.”

The Dodgers will open the season without a scheduled shutdown. right-handed Evan Phillipstheir most effective and tenacious pitcher last season, will pitch in the most important situations. Daniel Hudson will also be an important part of the group, but he is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season due to lingering knee and ankle injuries.

Graterol and left-hander Vesia and Caleb Ferguson will pitch in high-shoulder situations, but Graterol could also get a role in the ninth inning.

“Yeah, he’s right in front of him, so go ahead and get him,” said pitching assistant coach Connor McGuinness. “His ceiling is as high as he wants. He is very hardworking. He is one of the best athletes I have ever seen. He plays so well that he can win the Golden Glove. For him, it’s just a matter of exit and execution.”

Graterol made the first four saves of his career last season. Roberts doesn’t rule out closing out Graterol, but the manager often prefers to use him against a lot of strong right-handers regardless of the half.

“The bottom line is that I trust Brousdard in every situation,” Roberts said. “It could be argued that some of the situations that I put him in are more effective than a situation with three save attempts in the ninth round. People are very immersed in the role and feel that this is their value. This is something that I, as a coach, must understand and understand.”

Dodgers pitcher Brousdard Graterol will play in the playoffs against the San Diego Padres on October 1.  12, 2022..

Brousdar Graterol will play against the San Diego Padres in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on October 20. December 12, 2022 at Dodger Stadium.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The 6-foot-1, 262-pound Graterol looked brilliant this spring, giving up five hits, hitting four and going one in five innings of five games, including Saturday’s scoreless inning against the Chicago White Sox in which his slider was better. depth.

The slider averaged 90.6 mph with a 30-inch drop and a seven-inch right-to-left gap last season, and Graterol kept opponents at an average of .158 (six of 38) at bats ending infield. But Roberts thinks a better slider will improve Graterol’s modest strikeout rate of 7.2 blows per nine innings.

“He was trying to find the right shape for this crashing ball,” Roberts said. “Hopefully he can find something he likes and fits in with because the fastball team is elite. Hopefully he can find something he can trust to get to a big place that will give him the speed difference we’re looking for.

“When he is on the hill, everything is hard. If you have something that can slow down attackers a bit, take them away from the fastball and the cutter, it will create more advantages.”

Despite all the tweaks and tweaks this spring, Graterol has one goal ahead of the season: “Stay healthy all year,” he said. It was not in 2021 and 2022.

Graterol purchased in Minnesota to start with. Kenta Maeda avoided injury in his first season in Los Angeles in February 2020, winning 1–2 with a 3.09 ERA in 23 games of the pandemic-shortened 2020 and taking three earned runs in 7 ⅔ innings of nine playoff games to Help the Dodgers win the World Series.

He went 3-0 with a 4.59 ERA in 34 games in 2021, losing three weeks of April to COVID-19, all of May to right forearm strain and all of June to triple A demotion for what Roberts called at the time, “graduation”.

By October, Graterol had settled down and played in eight of the 12 2021 postseason games, allowing one run and four hits, hitting seven and going none in nine innings.

He went 2–4 with a 3.26 ERA and four saves in 46 games in 2022, hitting 43 and passing 10 in 49 ⅔ innings, but missed two months with shoulder and elbow injuries.

“His ceiling is as high as he wants. He is very hardworking. He is one of the best athletes I have ever seen. He plays so well that he can win the Golden Glove.”

— Connor McGuinness, Dodgers pitching assistant coach, on Brousdar Gratherol.

There has been some speculation that because Graterol has a shorter stride and most of the torque is generated by the upper body, it puts more stress on the shoulder and elbow. But the Dodgers have no plans to change his mechanics.

“It’s hard to say that a mechanical change will prevent injury every time a guy throws 100 mph,” McGuinness said. “I think you’re running down a slippery slope trying to change someone’s stride length or something, especially considering his throw.”

Graterol didn’t think his weight was a problem, but changes to his winter training regimen – he worked out three times a day most days, with more stretching and cardio – and his diet helped him drop from 285 pounds to 262.

“My weight increased, but my speed remained the same – I was going from 102 to 103 miles per hour,” Graterol said. “But I feel a lot better. I feel like I can make things easier.”

Teammates noticed the weight loss right away. “I saw him on the first day of spring training,” Vesia said, “and I said, ‘You came ready to go this year. Roberts said weight loss doesn’t necessarily mean increased commitment. “I would say it shows his maturity,” Roberts said.

McGuinness isn’t sure if Graterol would benefit from being lighter.

“That could help him potentially build the proper foundation to get through the whole season and help him recover a little better,” McGuinness said. “But there is an argument that being a little heavier at the beginning of the year can also be beneficial. So the medal has two sides.

The Dodgers had an established closer during the decade that Kenley Jansen held the position from 2012 to 2021, and they entered 2022 with veteran closer Craig Kimbrel as the ninth-inning specialist.

Late-game pitching decisions will be based more on matchups than specific roles this season, but Graterol, whether he’s closer, a setter or a short pitcher, will be an important part of the mix.

“Doc will continue to put him there in serious situations and we need him to be healthy all year,” Vesia said of Graterol. “He’s going to be a huge part of our bullpen, whether it’s in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning.”