There are not many flaws with the 2022 Dodgers. Currently, they rank first in runs scored, first in ERA, and third in bullpen ERA. The first team to reach 90 wins this year, the Dodgers are clicking on all cylinders while still expecting to get high-impact players back from injury before the playoffs start. One of those players is All-Star reliever Blake Treinen.
Blake Treinen’s 2021 season was one of the more impressive we’ve seen from a non-closing reliever in recent memory. He finished with a 1.99 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 85 strikeouts in 72.1 innings. The thing that separated him from other pitchers was his slider, which he throws more than any other pitch. On the season, batters only had seven hits off of it which was good for an eyepopping .074 opponent AVG. He coupled that with a fastball in the upper 90s and a cutter that he used to bridge the difference in velocities and keep hitters guessing.
2022 has been a different story, as Treinen has essentially missed the entirety year with a right-shoulder injury that he suffered in late April. When the injury occurred, there was no guarantee that he would be able to return this year at all. After a long road to recovery, it looks like Treinen will be returning sometime this week. However, the role that he will fill upon returning is something of a mystery.
For answers to this question, we need to look back to the beginning of the rehab process. About a month after Treinen went down with the injury, the Dodgers extended his contract through the 2023 season. Fast forward to last week, Andrew Friedman explained the reasoning was essentially to ensure Treinen could try to avoid undergoing season-ending surgery. A contract extension gave him security to push the shoulder and attempt to return this year by alleviating the concern of tanking his free agent value if he re-injured it and had to get offseason surgery. This tells me two things: Treinen’s injury was worse than what the Dodgers had let on and they really wanted him back this year because they felt that this was a special group.
The fact that season-ending surgery was on the table means that this was a significant injury. The Dodgers have already been dealing with the after-effects of an All-Star playing through an injury that could’ve required surgery in Max Muncy. As we have seen with Muncy, the results can be very volatile and the road long.
So how about Treinen and his rehab so far? Well, he’s pitched seven games for AAA Oklahoma City and the reports coming in from Dave Roberts have been positive overall. Statistically, Treinen has a 4.50 ERA and 1.50 WHIP with nine strikeouts in six innings. He gave up three runs in his last outing for OKC, but performance is not really what you are concerned about during rehab starts, as the players are usually just working things out on the road to health.
How the stuff looks could give one a better feel for how things are going, but the results there have also been somewhat mixed for Treinen. On most nights he’s sat 96-97 mph with normal movement profiles, looking like he’s relatively healthy. On other nights, he’s dropped down to 94-95 mph and things will be a bit erratic.
So it’s a bit of a question mark since it’s obvious he’s not 100%, but even a mostly-healthy Treinen would be a huge boost to the back of the Dodger bullpen that has really been the only area the team could improve. The bullpen as a whole has been spectacular, but closing out games has been somewhat of an adventure thanks to Craig Kimbrel and his uneven performances.
Treinen has experience in the closer role, though his usage might be in question depending on exactly where his arm health is at any given moment. Traditionally, the team has liked to deploy him in the fireman role where he comes in whenever the situation calls for him to shut down the opponent in a high-leverage situation, but with Evan Phillips seemingly locked in there, it’s conceivable to think Treinen could get an audition to pitch the 9th in October.
There is still a lot that would have to happen before that situation plays out, chief of which is Treinen proving that he’s recovered from the injury enough to be effective in the final month, but the possibility provides hope down the stretch for the pen’s questionable mark at the end.
Regardless of the capacity, any decently-healthy Treinen return is only going to help the Dodgers as they look to cap off one of the most impressive seasons in baseball history. Dave Roberts has a lot of talent to work with in the pen, so it will be interesting to see where Treinen ultimately fits in after missing nearly the entire season. Whether Roberts slots him into a specific inning or uses him to put out fires will largely be dictated by his health, his performance, and the performance of other late-game relievers. Regardless, all I know is that Treinen, when healthy, is as much of a sure thing as anybody to go out and deliver a clean inning at the end of a game.