Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rubby De La Rosa's debut a succes, but is that good?

Rubby De La Rosa was recalled on Tuesday and made his Major League debut in the eighth inning of a 5-4 game (the Dodgers were ahead).

He came in and didn't look like a kid making his debut. Despite running the count full to Hunter Pence, he struck him out with a 97 MPH fastball on the outer-half of the plate. He then got Carlos Lee to break his bat on a grounder to short (great pick by James Loney to save an error by Rafael Furcal). Finally, he got Brett Wallace to strike out on a breaking pitch after throwing a nasty changeup to get strike two.

He seemed to throw four pitches: a heavy, sinking fastball in the mid-to-upper-90s; a devastating changeup; a slider (which needs some work) and a curveball (which he got Wallace out on swinging).

To say I'm excited about this is an understatement. De La Rosa was dominant and of course that's a good thing. However, I fear the Dodgers will be enticed to use him primarily out of the bullpen in the future.

Some prospect experts have speculated he could end up at the back of the bullpen because he lacks a true third pitch (right now, at least), but he needs to be tried as a starter before making him a reliever.

It's a similar situation to Neftali Feliz, who was the Rangers' top prospect a year ago. They contemplated trying him in the rotation in the spring, but ultimately ended up keeping him as the closer. While he's great in that role, it makes me wonder, "What might have been?" if they tried him as a starter.

It wouldn't be the first time something like this happened. When Jonathan Papelbon had success as a closer in 2006 (0.92 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 5.77 K/BB), he was still projected to be a starting pitcher. Boston left him in the closer's role in 2007 and, up until last season, he was really good at it.

The difference between Boston and Texas is Boston had starting pitching depth in 2007. It had just added Daisuke Matsuzaka to a rotation that featured Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling. The Red Sox needed help in the bullpen desperately.

The Rangers have gotten surprisingly good contributions from Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando (who was a reliever last year), so keeping Feliz in the bullpen makes a little more sense than it did in Spring Training. After losing Cliff Lee, though, I thought it was a no-doubter that Texas would at least give Feliz a shot at starting.

The Dodgers don't exactly need starting pitching right now, as all five projected starters are healthy. So if De La Rosa pitches out of the 'pen this year, that's fine with me and wouldn't be surprising in the least. But come 2012, he should be given a shot to start. If he can be as good as some think, it'd be foolish to get only 70 innings a year out of him instead of 180-plus.

The Dodgers do have a dire need for bullpen arms, as Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Vicente Padilla are all on the disabled list.

Mike Axisa of FanGraphs wrote an article speculating whether De La Rosa could be the next Dodgers' closer. I have no problem with De La Rosa ending up as the Dodgers' closer -- in the future. The Dodgers need to not fall in love with him out of the 'pen before giving him a legitimate shot as a starter. If he fails in that role, the Dodgers can always move him back to the 'pen. It's not a bad problem to have.

Ultimately, I think Kenley Jansen ends up as the Dodgers' closer -- even if De La Rosa fails as a starter -- as Broxton isn't long for this team.

In 1993, Pedro Martinez pitched 65 games for the Dodgers -- 63 of which came out of the bullpen (2.65 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 10.0 K/9). When he was traded to Montreal, the Expos wasted no time making him a starter. I'd say that was the right move. Here's hoping De La Rosa follows suit, minus the whole being traded for a slappy second baseman.

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