Dodgers: It’s Time to Give Dustin May a Shot in Relief

In the aftermath of the Dodgers taking two of three in San Diego this past weekend, the greatest topic of concern for the team’s troubled bullpen is Kenley Jansen. While it’s likely the walk-off grand slam he surrendered on Sunday can be chalked up to pitching a third consecutive day, there is cause for worry about his home run totals and velocity.

Like it or not, Jansen is the Dodgers’ closer for 2019, whatever that may entail. However, there isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) a similar level of certainty for Joe Kelly. The team’s biggest FA bullpen investment since Brandon League continues to disappoint on a similar level, and things only got worse in San Diego, coughing up a three-run lead on Saturday. Going into Tuesday’s game against Atlanta, his regular season stats include eyesores like -0.9 WAR and a 10.13 ERA.

Given the amount of money invested in Kelly, there’s no point in clamoring for him to be released. Still, he has exhausted many fans’ patience (mine included), and using him in high-leverage spots has become inexcusable. Some believe he should be given more leeway to get in a groove based on his October track record, but there’s a good chance he’s simply a classic playoff fluke in the vein of Bucky Dent, Billy Hatcher and Pat Borders. That is, someone who is incredible in one small October sample size, and never replicates it in their regular season play.

Help is in AA

In my view, the perfect replacement for Kelly right now is Dustin May. The 21-year-old righty has been turning heads this year with his play in spring training and the minors with AA Tulsa. His April for the Drillers was spectacular, culminating with seven strikeouts in five innings on the 29th. That ability to strike out so many batters in relatively few innings could translate to working in relief.


Given May is a starter, it might not seem ideal to have him in the bullpen as his MLB debut. However, the case of Caleb Ferguson provides a good model. Groomed as a starting pitcher, Ferguson was quickly shifted to the bullpen after his debut in 2018 and has flourished in that capacity since. Plus, relief work is an ideal way of limiting a young starter’s innings, as is the case with Julio Urias right now. And he’s showing it can work perfectly. 

The most practical replacement for Kelly might lie more in veteran lefty Tony Cingrani, who just got off to a good start in his rehab assignment with Rancho Cucamonga. Moreover, Kelly’s struggles (as well as the lack of true reliability in the pen aside from Dylan Floro) likely necessitates Andrew Friedman going all-in on a top reliever this July. But there’s no harm in letting May have a shot right now. Best case scenario, he does an excellent job cutting his teeth in relief like Ferguson. Worst case, it’s clear he should strictly be a starter, and is sent back down.

There’s no harm in giving it a try. On the other hand, there is *only* harm in giving Kelly crucial spots that belong in more capable hands.

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  1. I 100% agree i thought May would have been called up to help in the bullpen already, but i do understand the FO wanting to wait to let him mature in to more of a starting pitcher role, but why not bring him up for relief now then can send him back down until they feel he is ready to be part of the rotation.I also understand that Kenley will be the closer, i do wonder why not try Julio in that spot to look in to the future as a closer since he may always be on some sort of pitch or inning leash.

  2. Missing the obvious example here…, Buehler started in a relief role his rookie year

  3. I don’t agree in this case. A starting pitcher in AA ball is learning to be a starting pitcher and May looks like he will be a good one. Calling him up removes him from that learning curve. I have no problem bring up a guy like him late in the season when the minor league season is finished. Ferguson, if ya’all remember was an emergency call up to start when everyone else was hurt. He wasn’t ready to start in the big’s but his stuff works in the bullpen. Will he ever be a starter now? He needs some seasoning as a starter in the minors to get back as a starter

  4. I disagree, lets see what Cingrani, when he comes back to the Dodgers can do. Keep Dustin May at AA, let him develop into a starter. Caleb Ferguson will be coming back also, and he has done well in a relievers role! If the Dodgers intend to limit Urias’ innings, let him be the closer, when Jensen is unavailable, think a la Josh Hader of the Brewers.

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