Joel Peralta’s sore shoulder could open Dodgers’ closer spot for others

Shoulder injuries for pitchers are about the worst possible scenario. Shoulder injuries for 39-year-old pitchers are just downright terrifying.

From Ken Gurnick:

“Dodgers reliever Joel Peralta, sidelined by shoulder stiffness, said he is hopeful he will be able to throw off a mound by next week.

That will put Peralta nearly two weeks behind the rest of the team’s pitchers and at risk of opening the season on the disabled list.”

That’s … not good. It’s even more problematic with Kenley Jansen set to miss the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season. Luckily, the shoulder stiffness doesn’t sound too serious, but it’s something to keep an eye on this season — especially for a guy who has averaged 67 innings in his age-35 through 38 seasons. While Peralta would have been the odds-on favorite to slide into the closer’s role, that likely won’t be the case now.

As of now, it’s anyone’s guess who’s going to open the season as the closer. I’d rather Don Mattingly play the matchups and not have a designated closer, but apparently, some players (not saying anyone on the Dodgers) tend to freak out when taken out of their routine. It’s understandable on some level, but it’s also a little silly at the same time. And besides, we know Mattingly wouldn’t go that route.

So, whose are closer? (Inside joke from my ESPN message board days … if you have to explain a joke … sigh). This question might be more appropriate to ask and answer in a month, and maybe we’ll do so. But for now, let’s look at the situation as it stands.

Chris Hatcher would be the obvious choice. He enjoyed a ton of success in Miami last season and has the best stuff (95.1 MPH fastball, sharp 87 MPH slider, heavy 87.4 MPH changeup). I’d have no issue with him getting the ball in the ninth inning. J.P. Howell or Brandon League would be other, more veteran, options. League has the most experience of anyone available in the bullpen, but he’s amazingly bad against left-handed hitters (.313 AVG, 404 OBP, 11 BB in 96 plate appearances last year). That pretty much eliminates him unless the opposing team wants to send three righties up there against him. The Dodgers’ recent signing of Dustin McGowan looks really good right now. As long as he doesn’t completely implode in spring training, he should earn that $1 million roster bonus for making the opening day squad. His stuff played up out of the bullpen and his numbers were much better as a reliever.

The name I’m most intrigued by is Juan Nicasio. No, he probably isn’t the next Wade Davis, but his stuff plays well in the late innings as he misses bats and has good velocity. Daniel wrote a nice piece about him shortly after he was acquired in November.

“Though Nicasio would be at the moment likely the team’s fifth starter behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Dan Haren, I’m really not interested in him in that role, and I think we all know the Dodgers will move to add another starter. But as a reliever, a two-pitch guy who can touch 95 in short stints? Well, that’s fascinating, really, because I’ve long loved the idea of taking mediocre starters who don’t have a good enough third pitch or velocity to survive in the rotation and turning them into relief assets. I’m not suggesting that Nicasio will be Wade Davis, but you get the idea — it’s the exact same thing.

I shouldn’t do this, but… oh, hell. Here’s Nicasio and Davis as starters:

Juan Nicasio 69 360.1 6.92 3.25 1.17 44.60% 12.30% 4.38 4.10 4.6
Wade Davis 88 513.2 6.33 3.36 1.12 38.20% 9.70% 4.49 4.50 4.3

I mean… it’s a little eerie, right?  Davis pitched more innings and allowed fewer homers — not being in Colorado helped — but he didn’t get the grounders Nicasio did. Otherwise, they were basically the same. And I know that I could do this exercise on a bunch of lousy starters who didn’t turn into one of the most dominating relievers in the game, and to even pretend that Nicasio could be that is a fun dream, but you get the point, right?”

Like we said, the chances Nicasio is going to emerge as one of the best and most dominant relievers in the game is highly unlikely. The numbers are there and the opportunity might just well be there, too.

Jansen’s misfortune (for sure) and Peralta’s shoulder (maybe) opens up two spots that weren’t previously there. McGowan probably has the inside track for one of the spots, while one of the non-roster invitees or prospects (Pedro Baez, Yimi Garcia) could seize the opportunity. It’d be nice to see a player who enjoyed success in the past (David Aardsma, Sergio Santos) have a dynamite spring to claim the spot.

If the Dodgers’ closer to open 2015 is Hatcher or Nicasio, that would be fantastic. I just really don’t want to see League out there protecting a 1-run lead in the ninth inning. It’s probably going to happen, so just prepare yourself for it.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.