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Rubby De La Rosa: The Next Dodgers’ Closer?

Jonathan Broxton was a question mark coming into the season following his second half struggles in 2010, but the Dodgers had backup options in place in case he was unable to regain his past effectiveness. Hong-Chih Kuo had been one of the best relievers in all of baseball over the last few seasons, and the Dodgers also had the flamethrowing Kenley Jansen at their disposal. Vicente Padilla would also be in the mix once he recovered from offseason elbow surgery. Less than two months into the season, it’s all fallen apart in Chavez Ravine.

Broxton struggled before hitting the disabled list with an elbow issue while back problems and more recently social anxiety disorder shelved Kuo. Padilla’s return was barely a blip on the radar before more elbow trouble sent him back to the DL. Jansen has had his moments but has been inconsistent this season, not surprising since he’s been pitching for less than two full years. Javy Guerra became the sixth different Dodger to record a save in 2011 with a scoreless inning last night, but the interesting stuff came one inning earlier.

Called up from Double-A earlier in the day, 22-year-old righty Rubby De La Rosa made his Major League debut in the eighth inning of a one-run game by plowing through the heart of the Astros’ order on just 13 pitches. Hunter Pence swung and missed on a 97 mph heater in a 3-2 count for the first out, Carlos Lee bounced a 1-0 fastball (also 97) to short for out number two, and then Brett Wallace went down swinging on a 1-2 curveball to end the inning. Gameday says he threw nine fastballs, two curveballs, one changeup, and one slider, so he brought the entire bag of tricks to the mound. Guerra got the save, but De La Rosa’s inning was more impressive given the quality of the competition.

Coming into the season, Baseball America rated De La Rosa as the second best pitching prospect in the Dodgers’ organization and third best prospect overall. They regaled us with tales of fastballs that “registered as high as 102 mph,” a changeup with “late fade at 85-89 mph,” and a slider with “sharp, late break.” They touted De La Rosa as having “the potential to be a No. 2 starter or a closer,” and that closer potential is what has put Rubby on the fantasy radar so quickly. With the team seemingly content with using big money Matt Guerrier in the middle innings, there’s a clear and obvious opening for De La Rosa in the ninth. Last night was an impressive start to his career, and if he continues to be effective for a few days/ weeks (last night was Guerra’s fifth MLB game, so the Dodgers aren’t shy about moving kids into high pressure spots), the save opps are almost certain to come his way.

We don’t have a ZiPS projection for De La Rosa on the site, but Dan Szymborski pegged him for a 92 ERA+ in the comments of the Dodgers’ thread at Think Factory. That’s as a swing man, but we’re looking at him for eventual saves, not ERA or WHIP or anything like that. I’m sure many of you are like me and are already fed up with adding and dropping Dodgers’ relievers this season, but this one certainly has some staying power and upside. If De La Rosa doesn’t pan out in the role, we might as well swear off Hollywood closers for the rest of the year. Yahoo! added him to the player pool last night but ESPN has not, and of course he’s available in Ottoneu.