Home Sports ‘He’s turned into a weapon.’ How Michael Grove became a high-leverage Dodgers reliever

‘He’s turned into a weapon.’ How Michael Grove became a high-leverage Dodgers reliever

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LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17, 2024: Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Michael Grove (29) pitches in relief against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Daniel Hudson He was the same age (27) when he moved from Arizona’s rotation to the bullpen in 2014 as Dodgers right handed Michael Grove is today, and although the transition was more by necessity than design (Hudson underwent Tommy John surgeries in 2012 and 2013 and had to relieve strain on his elbow), it was still a blow to his ego.

“At first, it’s a little difficult, it almost seems like a demotion, especially when you’re young and you’ve been starting your whole career,” said Hudson, now 37, a Dodgers setup man who closed games. for winning the World Series Washington Nationals in 2019.

“But then you get over it and you look at it like, ‘No, this is my chance to prove that this is my niche, this is my place on the team, and I’m going to go out there for a day or two. Two innings with whatever I have. and (dominate)’”.

Grove, a starting pitcher in 18 of his first 25 major league games in 2022 and 2023, did not consider his move to the bullpen this season a demotion, but he clearly adopted the bulldog mentality described by Hudson, to his and the Dodgers’ benefit. .

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 2/3 innings (11.74 ERA) of his first four games. .

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

Grove was 2-2 with a 2.16 ERA in his last 14 appearances entering 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 gave four walks in 16 ⅔ innings, dropping his ERA to 5.18 in 18 games this season.

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

Treinen, who missed most of the last two seasons due to shoulder injuries and the first five weeks of 2024 due to broken ribs, did not allow a run in six innings of his first six appearances. Vesia has not allowed a run in 15 ⅓ innings of his last 14 games, dropping his ERA from 4.05 to 1.23.

Versatile left-hander Ryan Yarbrough has allowed one run in 12 ⅓ innings (0.73 ERA) of his last six games. Hudson has been a mainstay of 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 innings.

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

Grove has primarily relied on an 86.5 mph slider that, according to Baseball Savant, has much more vertical drop (36.6 inches) than horizontal break (4.8 inches). He has limited opponents to a .167 average (10-for-60) in at-bats that ended with the pitch.

Grove has replaced a four-seam fastball that averaged 94.8 mph last season with a livelier sinking two-seam fastball that averages 95.5 mph with 15.0 inches of drop and 11.1 inches of horizontal break, while retaining his cutter fastball. of 92.6 mph and 80-mph knuckle curve.

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

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

“Honestly, he’s become 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’s been amazing, so much fun to watch.”

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

That was easier to do after the Dodgers acquired the ace Tyler Glasnow of Tampa Bay and hired the right-hander to a five-year, $136.5 million extensionsigned Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto to a 12-year, $325 million deal and veteran left-hander James Paxton for a one-year, $7 million contract this past winter.

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

“Everyone wants to start, and I think I can start, but we also have a really unique collection of talent with the return of Walker and Kershaw,” Grove said. “My ability to make an impact on the team is in the role I have now.

“I want to be in the big leagues and I want to play for this 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 yourself and the team. . I understand that.”

Grove dipped his toe in the bullpen last season, making six relief appearances in the regular season and two in the NL Division Series loss to the Diamondbacks, but he’s been fully immersed there this season, leaning on advice of the team’s veterans.

“They’ve helped me prepare to know when I might come into the game, knowing how the score and the situation and who’s been throwing a lot the last few days can dictate a lot of that,” Grove said. “I’m doing everything I can to know every day what’s expected of me.”

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

“It’s the daily work before the game, just trying to keep it at a volume that doesn’t build up on you and is enough to make you feel ready every day,” Grove said. “There’s been 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 on a championship-caliber club.

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

Grove is doing his part, pitching well enough to transition from a low-leverage, long relief role to a high-leverage short relief 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 picked off Cincinnati pinch-runner Jacob Hurtubise at first base, struck out left-hander Jake Fraley with a 79 mph curveball and got Santiago Espinal to make a pop out to second base. The Dodgers ended up winning 7-3. Grove struck out two of three batters in the seventh inning of Saturday night’s 4-0 victory about the Reds.

“It’s been a transition for Michael to be able to go in shorter bursts and be available more frequently, and he continues to adapt,” the manager said. David Roberts saying. “But what he has done has been fantastic. “It is a valuable piece.”

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This story originally appeared on Los Angeles Times.

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