Gus Varland, previously a standard Double-A starting pitcher within the Dodgers’ minor league system, emerged as an unexpected star in the big league bullpen. In a significant move last year, the 26-year-old pitcher transitioned from starting to the bullpen and introduced alterations to his pitching style, yielding remarkable results.
Varland witnessed a surge in his strikeout rate while simultaneously reducing his walk rate. Astonishingly, his season Earned Run Average (ERA) dropped by nearly 4 earned runs. This noteworthy mechanical refinement did not escape the attention of a major league team, but surprisingly, it was the Milwaukee Brewers who took note, not the Dodgers.
Making his debut as a reliever in the big league, Varland displayed tremendous progress. During his initial four appearances for the Milwaukee Brewers this season, he showcased exceptional performance by not conceding any earned runs. Nonetheless, his trajectory faced an unforeseen challenge when a line drive struck his face during a game against the Padres. The aftermath of the incident impacted his performance.
After enduring a demanding 29-day recovery period from this injury and facing another batted ball striking his throwing hand, Varland confronted a psychological hurdle. His second game back proved to be a testing ground as he struggled against the St. Louis Cardinals. In a disappointing outing, Varland allowed a staggering 9 earned runs, 6 hits, and 2 home runs, while also issuing 3 walks in an attempt to secure only 2 batters out.
The next day, the Milwaukee Brewers designated Varland for assignment, a decision that marked a pivotal moment in his journey. Given his status as a Rule 5 draft pick, the opportunity emerged for him to return to the Dodgers. Consequently, Varland found himself assigned to the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers. Over the course of 30 games, he maintained an impressive 2.16 ERA and delivered a consistent strikeout rate per inning pitched.
The twist of fate came through an injury to Joe Kelly, allowing Varland to step into the limelight once again. The Dodgers summoned him to fill the void left by an injured right-handed pitcher. Making his debut for the Dodgers, Varland’s performance was nothing short of impressive. Over 2 innings, he held the opposing team without a hit and issued only a single walk. A highlight of his performance was a breathtaking double play, where a 96.9 mph ground ball came straight to Varland, enabling him to execute the play seamlessly. He concluded the game by facing the minimum number of batters, striking out three along the way.
The extent of Varland’s tenure on the Dodgers’ roster remains uncertain, but his recent achievements are undeniably promising. If he continues to showcase his newfound form, Varland stands a strong chance of securing a lasting position on the team.
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