Brusdar Graterol Has Elite Stuff, But He’s Not Even Close To The Dodgers Yet

The combination of a nitro-fueled fastball and a nickname simply doesn’t suggest that Dodgers reliever Brusdar Greatroll has the potential to be a big league closer. it screams.

This right-handed right-hander has a nasty two-seam sinking fastball, averaged 99.8 mph with a 20-inch drop last season and 15 inches of left-to-right break, and a four-seamer. Joe averages 99.4 mph and touches a top speed of 102.5 mph.

Dodgers reliever Alex Vescia said, “He has the best stuff on the planet.”

And a moniker to match. Greatroll’s Minnesota Twins teammates dubbed him “Bazooka” when he broke into the majors in 2019 because the ball appears to come off his hand as if shot from a rocket launcher.

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

But until Graterol can strike out left-handers with more consistency, develop a more effective slider to keep hitters away from his fastball and avoid the nagging injuries that have plagued him the past two seasons, He would not be called a “closer”.

Graterol has managed a .202 average, .512 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and two homers in 292 plate appearances in four big league seasons, but left-handers have hit with a .847 OPS and .294 . Five homers in 183 plate appearances against him.

The 24-year-old Venezuelan threw a cut-fastball — mostly to left-handers — that averaged 95.6 mph with a 22-inch drop, but had virtually no horizontal break last season, which is why batters hit .302 (13 for 43). The cutters they use.

Manager Dave Roberts said, “Certainly he has the mentality and the stuff to be a shutout, but the neutrality of being a dedicated closer,” pointing to the need for ninth-inning specialists to be effective against both lefties and righties. doing. “We’re continuing to work on making him a neutral pitcher.”

The Dodgers would begin the season without any scheduled closers. Right-hander Evan Phillips, his most effective and durable reliever last season, will pitch in the most critical situations. Daniel Hudson will also be an important part of the group, but is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season due to knee and ankle injuries.

Greterol and left-handers Vecia and Caleb Ferguson will pitch in high-leverage positions, but Greterol could also earn the ninth inning role.

Assistant pitching coach Conor McGuinness said, “Yeah, it’s right in front of him, so go ahead and take it.” “His ceiling is as high as he wants it to go. He is very hardworking. He is one of the best athletes I have ever seen. He fields well enough to win the Gold Glove. For him, it’s just a matter of going out and executing.

Greatrol scored the first four goals of his career last season. Roberts wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Graterol being shut down, but managers often prefer to use him against right-handed hard hitters regardless of innings pitched.

Roberts said, “The bottom line is that I trust Brusdaar in any situation.” “You could argue that some of the places I put him have more leverage than a three-run save position in the ninth. People get too caught up in one role and feel that it is their worth. It’s something as a coach that I have to navigate and understand.

Dodgers reliever Bruiser Greatroll pitches in the playoffs against the San Diego Padres on October 12, 2022.

Bruiser Graterol pitches against the San Diego Padres in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on October 12, 2022 at Dodger Stadium.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The 6-foot-1, 262-pound Greatroll has looked sharp this spring, giving up five hits, striking out four and walking one in five innings of five games, including Saturday’s win against the Chicago White Sox. Including a scoreless inning in which his slider was better. depth.

The slider averaged 90.6 mph last season with a 30-inch drop and a seven-inch, right-to-left break and a .158 average (six for 38) in at-bats that ended with a pitch. Captured opponents. But Roberts believes a better slider would improve Greatrol’s modest strikeout rate of 7.2 whiffs per nine innings.

“He’s been searching to find the right size of that breaking ball,” Roberts said. “Hopefully he can find something he likes and can be consistent with because the fastball command is elite. Hopefully he can find something he can rely on to move to a bigger , which gives it the velocity difference we’re looking for.

“When he’s on the mound, everything is tough. If you have something to slow down hitters a little bit, to get them away from fastballs and cutters, it creates more upside.

For all the tinkering and fine-tuning this spring, Graterol has one goal entering the season: “To be healthy all year long,” he said. They didn’t in 2021 and 2022.

Greatroll, acquired from Minnesota for starter Kenta Maeda in February 2020, avoided injury in his first season in Los Angeles, going 1-2 with a 3.09 ERA in 2020 in a pandemic-shortened 23 games and 7 ⅔ innings of nine starts. Scored three earned runs. playoff game 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 side tightness and all of June to a demotion to Triple A. Roberts was, at the time, “finishing school.”

Graterol got his bearings by October and pitched in eight of 12 postseason games in 2021, allowing one run and four hits, striking out seven and walking none in nine innings.

He went 2-4 with a 3.26 ERA and struck out 10 in 43 of 49 innings, with four saves in 46 games in 2022, but missed two months due to shoulder and elbow injuries.

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

— Conor McGuinness, Dodgers assistant pitching coach, on Bruiser Greatroll

There has been some speculation that since Greterol has a shorter stride and generates more torque with his upper body, he is putting more strain on his shoulders and elbows. But the Dodgers have no plans to change their mechanics.

“It’s hard to say that whenever someone throws at 100 mph the mechanical changes are going to prevent injuries,” McGuinness said. “I think you’re running on a slippery slope trying to change the length of someone’s stride or something like that, especially looking at his throw.”

Greatrol didn’t think his weight was an issue, but modifications to his winter training regimen — he worked three times a day with more stretching and cardio — and his diet helped him drop from 285 pounds to 262. .

“My weight was up, but my velo was up there—I was throwing 102-103 mph,” Greatrol said. “But I feel so much better. I feel like I can do everything easier.”

Teammates immediately noticed the weight loss. “I saw him the first day of spring training,” Vecia said, “and I said, ‘You came ready to go this year.’ Roberts added that losing weight doesn’t necessarily reflect increased commitment. “I would say it shows his maturity,” Roberts said.

McGuiness isn’t sure whether or not Graterol will benefit from being lighter.

“It could help him potentially build a proper foundation to face the whole season and it could help him get a little bit better,” McGuiness said. “But there’s an argument that being a little heavier earlier in the year can be beneficial. So there are two sides to that coin.

The Dodgers had an established closer for a decade when Kenley Jansen held the role from 2012-2021, and they enter 2022 with veteran closer Craig Kimbrel as their ninth-inning specialist.

Late-game pitching decisions will be based more on matchup than defined roles this season, but whether it’s closer, setup man or short reliever, Greatroll will be an important part of the mix.

“The doctors are going to continue to put him out there in great conditions, and we’ll need him to stay healthy throughout the rest of the year,” Vescia said of Graterol. “He’s going to be a big part of our bullpen, whether it’s the seventh or eighth or ninth inning.”

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