Dodgers’ Hanser Alberto has a love-hate relationship with pitching

LOS ANGELES ― For its Sunday night broadcast of the Dodgers’ game against the San Francisco Giants, ESPN made a wise choice when choosing a player to provide in-game commentary: Dodgers utility player Hanser Alberto.

Karl Ravech, the play-by-play broadcaster, broached the subject of Alberto’s pitching during their segment in the fifth inning. When Ravech said Alberto has made seven pitching appearances this season, Alberto corrected him.

“Eight, man,” Alberto said. “I got the record.”

It’s true. No baseball season has seen more position players take the mound in mop-up relief appearances than this one. And no position player in history has made more relief appearances in a single season than Alberto.

Although Alberto takes pride in the record – enough, at least, to point it out during a national broadcast – his relationship with the history books is a bit tortured.

“It’s fun,” he said. “We don’t want to be there.”

Say what?

“We have to so we do it,” Alberto explained, “but to be honest we don’t want to be there. We don’t look forward to it. You don’t want to look strange or weird out there. We just want to play our position. It’s to help the team, so we do it.”

The 29-year-old utility player has been asked to take the mound with the Dodgers leading by eight, nine, 10, 10, 11, 13 and 13 runs. He’s entered a game when trailing only once, in the ninth inning of a 7-1 loss to the San Diego Padres on Sept. 2.

Using Alberto allows Manager Dave Roberts to save his actual pitchers for game situations in which the outcome is in doubt. In effect, putting Alberto on the mound is an act of conceding the final outcome of the game before its conclusion.

Alberto was not selected for the role based on his pitching prowess. A native of the Dominican Republic, Alberto pitched as a youth only once, around the age of 8 by his own estimate. Before this season he had made two mound appearances in a major league game and allowed two runs, giving him a 13.50 career ERA (it’s down to 4.82 now).

To his credit, Alberto varies the speed on his pitches like few others. His slowest pitch this season according to Statcast traveled 44 mph. His fastest, a 77-mph heater, was fouled off by Arizona’s Geraldo Perdomo. He even has a strikeout, freezing Padres slugger Josh Bell on a two-strike, 68-mph something on Sept 3.

Other than trying to hit a certain target, Alberto said he does not bring a strategy to the mound. Dodgers catcher Will Smith told the Southern California News Group that he does not actually call pitches with Alberto on the mound.

“At least put it in a good spot that I can get weak contact,” Alberto said. “Outside most of the time, just because I don’t want to leave something up or right in the middle.”

There is one exception to this rule.

Alberto has a request. There’s one hitter he would like to pitch to before the season is over – this weekend, in fact, when the St. Louis Cardinals visit Dodger Stadium for a three-game series.

“Pujols,” he said. “I hope he hits 700 against me. That’s the dream. … That would be fun.”

He might not get the chance. Albert Pujols is sitting on 698 career home runs entering the Cardinals’ three-game series in San Diego beginning Tuesday. Pujols typically starts against left-handed pitchers, and the Cardinals will face one – Blake Snell – in the three-game series.

MONEY MATTERS

The Dodgers have fallen behind the New York Mets in one leaderboard: team payroll.

The Associated Press reported that the Dodgers are on pace to run MLB’s second-highest payroll this season by virtue of Trevor Bauer’s suspension under the league’s domestic violence policy.

The suspension effectively reduced Bauer’s 2022 salary from $32 million to $3.8 million, the amount he was owed at the time of the suspension, according to the report. The Mets entered September with a team payroll of $273.9 million, followed by the Dodgers at $267.2 million and the New York Yankees at $254.4 million.

MLB calculates team payroll differently for the purpose of levying luxury taxes. The Dodgers’ reported luxury-tax payroll figure of $289.96 million will fall just under the $290 million mark, the highest tax threshold which carries an 80 percent overage penalty for first-time offenders.

INJURY UPDATES

Right-handed relievers Blake Treinen (shoulder) and Brusdar Graterol (elbow) threw to live hitters, and both are expected to be activated from the 15-day injured list this week. Treinen will be activated Thursday, Roberts said, while Graterol will be activated shortly thereafter.

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Roberts said Graterol touched 99 mph on the radar gun and Treinen touched 97, both in line with their typical fastball speeds.

Tony Gonsolin (forearm) threw a two-inning bullpen with a brief rest in between each inning. Roberts said Gonsolin’s velocity “ticked up” compared to his previous session.

ALSO

Pitcher Ryan Pepiot will serve as the Dodgers’ extra player during Game 1 of their doubleheader against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday, Roberts said. The rookie right-hander, who’s 2-0 with a 3.78 ERA in eight games (seven starts) this season, will pitch in relief of starter Michael Grove.

UP NEXT

Game 1: Arizona (RHP Zach Davies, 2-4, 4.06 ERA) at Dodgers (RHP Michael Grove, 0-0, 4.40 ERA), Tuesday, 12:10 p.m., SportsNet LA, 570 AM

Game 2: Arizona (RHP Drey Jameson, 1-0, 1.00 ERA) at Dodgers (LHP Tyler Anderson, 15-3, 2.62 ERA), Tuesday, 7:10 p.m., SportsNet LA, 570 AM