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Justin Bruihl carved unique path to Dodgers’ bullpen – Daily News



LOS ANGELES ― The Dodgers’ bullpen is long on talent and short on homegrown talent. Of the 12 relief pitchers to appear in a game this season, five (Craig Kimbrel, Brusdar Graterol, David Price, Alex Vesia, Garrett Cleavinger) were acquired in trades, three (Blake Treinen, Tyler Anderson and Daniel Hudson) signed with the Dodgers as free agents, and two (Phil Bickford and Evan Phillips) were claimed off waivers.

That leaves only two active relievers – Mitch White and Justin Bruihl – who were drafted and developed as Dodgers. And while White is a former top-100 prospect who made waves as a minor-league starter, Bruihl seemed to arrive out of nowhere.

Technically, Bruihl wasn’t drafted as a Dodger. The 24-year-old left-hander was never drafted by any team, instead signing a minor league contract after one season of junior college in the summer of 2017.

“I think it’s a pretty cool story,” he said Wednesday. “Not a lot of undrafted guys go on to make it to the big leagues.”

Bruihl’s story rests on deception – from deceiving the pro and college teams that overlooked him as an amateur, to the major league hitters who still can’t figure him out. Bruihl has thrown 362 pitches since he debuted with the Dodgers in August of last year. Only four were clocked at 92 mph or faster, according to Statcast.

Yet his combination of a cutter, slider and sinker – a rare mix for a left-hander – works wonders against the best hitters in the world. In 21 regular-season appearances last year, Bruihl allowed only six earned runs in 21 appearances, good for a 2.89 ERA. In last year’s National League Championship Series against Atlanta, Bruihl faced seven batters and struck out five. This season he’s allowed just two hits and one run across five innings.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Bruihl was not on his radar this time a year ago, when Bruihl was in Double-A. But the southpaw quickly gained the manager’s trust.

“Justin works because he throws strikes,” Roberts said. “He’s got a cut fastball that can bore in on right-handed hitters and he’s got a cutter and a slider that runs off the bat of left-handed hitters.

“He’s got a good head, a good pulse, throws strikes, and he knows how to navigate an at-bat.”

Even Bruihl concedes his abrupt four-month rise from Double-A, to Triple-A, to the majors caught him by surprise. In hindsight, simple bad luck might have thwarted his potential prospect hype as a teenager.

Bruihl said he was already experiencing mental burnout from doing the high school showcase circuit “every weekend of my sophomore year” when his elbow caught up with his brain. He underwent Tommy John surgery as a junior.

The next year a few college offers came in, and Bruihl chose Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo). After one season he transferred to Santa Rosa Junior College, near his hometown of Petaluma, but a triceps injury limited him to 11 games. Bruihl nearly returned to Division I, but Cal head coach David Esquer and pitching coach Thomas Eager subsequently left for Stanford after recruiting Bruihl to Berkeley. So it was that the Dodgers were able to lure Bruihl with a minor league contract.

Bruihl’s first pro season didn’t go well. In 21 games of Rookie ball, he threw 14 wild pitches and posted an 8.24 ERA. The next season, at low-A Great Lakes, pitching coach Ryan Dennick taught him the cutter. That proved to be the turning point of his career.

“That has kind of made me who I am,” Bruihl said of the cutter. “I’ve always had a pretty good slider but I was missing that one extra piece to make me an outlier, so to speak. Not a lot of lefties throw it. A lot of people that do throw it, it’s not our main pitch. Those that do throw it 20 percent of the time.”

Bruihl throws his cutter approximately 70% of the time now. Opponents know it’s coming but a naturally deceptive delivery makes it a tough pitch – especially for left-handed batters. The next lefty who gets an extra-base hit against Bruihl will be the first.

On a team that boasts a payroll of nearly $300 million, Bruihl is a reminder that the road to every roster spot isn’t always paved with gold.

ALSO

Left-hander Tyler Anderson will take the place of injured left-hander Andrew Heaney in the Dodgers’ rotation Saturday in San Diego. In his first start of 2022, Anderson (1-0, 2.25 ERA) will be opposed by former Dodger Yu Darvish. … Trevor Bauer’s paid administrative leave was extended by seven days, according to multiple reports. The pitcher has been under investigation by Major League Baseball for his off-field conduct since July of last year.

UP NEXT

Dodgers (LHP Julio Urías, 0-1, 3.86 ERA) at San Diego (0-1, 4.50 ERA), Friday, 6:40 p.m., SportsNet LA, 570 AM



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