With a seventh National League West title a mere formality at this point, the Los Angeles Dodgers are balancing health with keeping pace in the standings. They’ve lost some ground of late by going 7-8 in their last 15 games, but still boast the best record in the NL.
More concerning than entering Sunday 1.5 games back of the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, the Dodgers continue to deal with a rash of injuries despite the likes of Dylan Floro, David Freese and Ross Stripling returning, and Rich Hill and Max Muncy expected back this week.
Alex Verdugo suffered a setback in his rehab and is “stagnant” in the recovery process, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts revealed after Saturday’s loss that Joe Kelly is dealing with a nagging issue.
“There was something with his lower half that just doesn’t feel right; don’t know the cause of it. So we tried to stay away from him, because you don’t want something with the lower half to ultimately affect the arm, so we stayed away from him,” Roberts said.
He did not offer much more specifics, other than to rule out a back injury. “It’s more legs,” Roberts added.
Kelly’s appearance against the San Francisco Giants was his first since Sept. 7. The right-hander allowed a leadoff single and stolen base before getting through the eighth inning.
“The stuff was coming out really good but there was still a little residual with the body,” Roberts assessed of the appearance. “We’ll work through it. It’s nothing that’s alarming. I think Joe just wants to be able to repeat the delivery.”
Kelly was among the six Dodgers relief pitchers who combined to throw five scoreless innings in the 1-0 loss.
Prior to allowing three runs to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 29, Kelly held opponents to a .121/.194/.152 batting line and strung together 10 consecutive scoreless innings over 11 appearances. He’s now gone two straight appearances (two innings) without a run allowed since the previous streak was snapped.
Kelly’s ability to not only get back to health but continue his upward trend is paramount to the Dodgers in that he’s a safety valve of sorts to Kenley Jansen. The once-unflappable closer has battled consistency this season, which has led to the Dodgers using Jansen a bit more unconventionally.
Pedro Baez, Kelly and Kenta Maeda have been identified as options to close games out in the event Jansen is unavailable.