“It’s being weaponized.” How Michael Grove Became a High-Leverage Dodgers Reliever

Daniel Hudson was the same age (27) when he moved from the Arizona rotation to the bullpen in 2014 as Dodgers right-hander Michael Grove is today, and even though the transition was more by necessity than design, Hudson underwent Tommy John surgeries in 2012 and 2013 and had to relieve stress on his elbow – it was always a blow to his ego.

“At first it’s a little hard, it almost feels like a demotion, especially when you’re young and you’ve started your whole career,” said Hudson, now a 37-year-old Dodgers setup man who closed games . for the Washington Nationals, winners of the World Series in 2019.

“But then you kind of get over it and see it as, ‘No, this is my opportunity to show that this is my niche, this is my place on the team, and I’m going to go for it. for one or two. two rounds with everything I have and (dominate).’

Grove, a starting pitcher in 18 of his first 25 big league games in 2022 and 2023, didn’t view his move to the bullpen this season as a demotion, but he has clearly adopted the bulldog mentality described by Hudson , to his great satisfaction. the Dodgers’ advantage.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder from West Virginia struggled in his first four games as a long man and middle reliever, allowing 10 earned runs and 13 hits in 7 ⅔ innings (11.74 ERA) of his first four matches.

But Grove has been so effective since April 10 that he has moved into a setup role, teaming with Hudson, right-hander Blake Treinen and left-hander Alex Vesia to help prop up an injury-plagued bullpen that has lost closer Evan Phillips and prep men Ryan. Brasier and Joe Kelly over the past three weeks and is still without Brusdar Graterol.

Grove was 2-2 with a 2.16 ERA in his last 14 appearances before Monday night’s game against the Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium, a stretch in which he allowed four earned runs, eight hits , struck out 26 and walked four in 16 ⅔ innings, lowering his ERA to 5.18 in 18 games this season.

As of Monday, the bullpen as a whole is 6-2 with a major league-best 1.28 ERA, 79 strikeouts and 24 walks in 84 ⅓ innings of 26 games since on April 21, a stretch in which the Dodgers went 20-6.

Treinen, who missed most of the last two seasons with shoulder injuries and the first five weeks of 2024 with fractured ribs, has not allowed a run in six innings in his first six appearances. Vesia hasn’t allowed a run in 15 ⅓ innings of his last 14 games, lowering his ERA from 4.05 to 1.23.

Versatile left-hander Ryan Yarbrough has allowed one run in 12 ⅓ innings (0.73 ERA) over his last six games. Hudson was a mainstay in the bullpen all season, going 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA and two saves in his first 20 games, striking out 20 and walking one in 19 rounds.

“There’s a lot of good things happening in the bullpen and our pitching staff as a whole, but Grover’s installation has been the most important to me,” Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman said. . “He pitched in seventh and eighth inning situations, and (what he did) was huge.”

Grove relied primarily on an 86.5 mph slider that, according to Baseball Savant, has far more vertical drop (36.6 inches) than horizontal break (4.8 inches). He held opponents to a .167 (10-for-60) batting average while finishing with pitching.

Grove replaced a four-seam fastball that averaged 94.8 mph last season with a snappier sinking two-seam fastball that averaged 95.5 mph with 15.0 inches of drop and 11.1 inches of horizontal break, while maintaining his fastball cut to 92.6 mph and 80-mph knuckle curve.

Grove’s pursuit rates, according to Baseball Savant, improved from 22.3% in 2022 to 27.2% in 2023 to 31.9% this season. His strikeout rates increased from 18.1% in 2022 to 24.2% in 2023 and then to 31.1% this season.

The lead armed Grove with another pitch to neutralize left-handed hitters, who are hitting .148 (four for 27) with no home runs and a plus-.537 on-base percentage on him this season after hitting .352 (45). for 128) with six home runs and a 1.025 OPS last season.

“Honestly, he became a weapon,” Hudson said of Grove. “He’s starting to really trust his slider and his sinker in the zone, and he’s starting to throw more strikes. It was awesome, a lot of fun to watch.

Before adjusting to his new role, Grove, a 2018 second-round pick who played in the Dodgers’ farm system as a starter, had to accept it.

That was easier to do after the Dodgers acquired ace Tyler Glasnow from Tampa Bay and signed the right-hander to a five-year extension worth $136.5 million, signed Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto to a 12-year, $325 million deal and veteran left-hander James Paxton signed a one-year deal worth $7 million last winter.

Former ace Walker Buehler also returned from a second Tommy John surgery in early May, and three-time National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw is expected to return from shoulder surgery this summer.

“Everybody wants to start, and I believe I can start, but we also have a really unique collection of talent with Walker coming back and Kershaw coming back,” Grove said. “My ability to impact the team lies in the role I currently occupy.

“I want to be in the big leagues and I want to play for that team that wins a lot of games and has a chance to win in October, and part of that is making sacrifices and doing what’s best for you and for the team.

Grove got his feet wet in the bullpen last season, when he made six relief appearances in the regular season and two in the NL Division Series loss to the Diamondbacks, but he was completely swamped there -down this season, leaning on the team’s veterans for guidance. .

“They helped me prepare by knowing when I might come into the game, knowing how the score and the situation and who’s pitched a lot over the last few days can dictate a lot of that,” Grove said. “I do my best to know every day what is expected of me.”

The biggest challenge for Grove and most young starters transitioning to the bullpen is learning to conserve physical and mental energy before and during games, throwing enough to stay alert without overtaxing their arms .

“It’s that daily work before the game, just trying to keep it at a volume where it’s not going to pile up on you and just make you feel ready every day,” Grove said . “There was kind of a balance there.”

Grove doesn’t know if his move to the bullpen will be permanent, but he has pitched well enough in relief to carve out an important role for a championship-caliber club.

“We have a lot of really good players in this room, and it’s about finding what each one can do individually to help us win a World Series,” Grove said. “That’s kind of my goal right now.”

Grove does his part, throwing well enough to move from a low-leverage long-play role to a high-leverage short-play role. Each of his last seven appearances before Monday night came in the seventh inning or later.

Grove replaced Paxton in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game Friday night and threw out Cincinnati pinch runner Jacob Hurtubise at first base, retired left-handed hitter Jake Fraley with a 79 mph curve and popped Santiago Espinal. towards second base. The Dodgers ultimately won 7-3. Grove struck out two of three batters in the seventh inning of Saturday night’s 4-0 win over the Reds.

“It’s been a transition for Michael to be able to play shorter periods and be available more often, and he continues to adapt,” manager Dave Roberts said. “But what he did was fantastic. It is a precious piece.

Sign up for more Dodgers news with Dodgers Dugout. Delivered at the start of each series.

This story was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *