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How the Dodgers' Alex Vesia found his way back into a high-leverage role in the bullpen

Jack Harris, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

In the life of a major league relief pitcher, highs and lows are part of the landscape.

The nature of a one-inning role makes volatility in performance inherent. Even small struggles or brief stumbles can snowball into icy, elongated slides.

It's why, while rags-to-riches stories might be common in MLB bullpens, so too are tales of the inverse. Even established big league relievers can be susceptible to ruts from which some never recover. Once the avalanche starts, it can feel impossible to halt.

Twelve months ago, it looked like Dodgers lefty Alex Vesia was about to be buried.

In 2021 and 2022, Vesia was one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball, ranking third in all of the majors (among relievers with 90 total innings) with a 2.19 ERA while carving out a crucial role in the back of the Dodgers bullpen.

Then, in the first half of 2023, it all fell apart.

 

Last April, Vesia had an 8.68 ERA. In May, he was sent down to the minors for the first time since early 2021. He returned for a month in June, but gave up seven earned runs in 10 outings. And by the start of July, he was back in triple A again — riding the kind of roster roller coaster that typically prefaces a reliever's decline within (or outright departure from) an organization.

"It was terrible," he said. "Not fun."

In one of the more unexpected recent turns for the Dodgers bullpen, however, Vesia has rediscovered his old levels of production.

Since last July, the 28-year-old has a 1.92 ERA in 53 appearances, the ninth-best mark in the majors during that span. This year, his 1.23 ERA trails only closer Evan Phillips in the Dodgers bullpen and ranks 11th among qualified National League relievers.

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