Brett Anderson remembers what it was like, this phenomenon known as a pennant race.
He is, after all, only 27, and barely into his prime. A full shock of rust-colored hair still sneaks out beneath his Dodgers cap. The familiar beard is true to its unruly form. His doughy 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame will never be a mold for a statue.
But the left-hander who visited O.com Coliseum earlier this week – the onetime ace of an A’s staff that included Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden and Andrew Bailey, and introduced youngsters Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Sonny Gray during his final, frustrating months – is accomplishing something he often feared would not happen.
He is staying healthy.
He is pitching well.
He is back in a pennant race, this time in the National League, as the No. 3 starter behind Cy Young candidates Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. So, no, there’s no pressure. The fact the Dodgers’ bullpen coughed up Tuesday’s game against the A’s and fared almost as poorly in the series finale a day later is an ongoing issue for manager Don Mattingly and a major plus for the division rival Giants.
Other than the Tommy John, my injuries were all kind of freakish. Hopefully I’ve gotten rid of that bug a little bit. I don’t know if it’s lucky, or it’s just all the work I’ve put in that’s paying off. But it’s fun to pitch meaningful games again.
Dodgers starter Brett Anderson, formerly the A’s ace
For Anderson, the final six weeks of the regular season figure to be one heck of a scrum, with the burly Texan somewhere in the pile, intent on avoiding the injuries that have jeopardized, hampered and threatened to ruin his career and helping the Dodgers hold off the Giants.
He knows it. He says it. This is no time to stub another toe or reacquaint himself with previous ailments that include a fractured right foot (2013), broken left index finger (2014), herniated disc that required surgery (2014), and the near epidemic left elbow tightness and inflammation that bothered him in 2010 and forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery in 2011.
“Other than the Tommy John, my injuries were all kind of freakish,” said Anderson, who signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers in the offseason. “Hopefully I’ve gotten rid of that bug a little bit. I don’t know if it’s lucky, or it’s just all the work I’ve put in that’s paying off. But it’s fun to pitch meaningful games again.”
Anderson started only two postseason games in his five seasons with the A’s, but the first was a gem. Just weeks removed from the disabled list following the elbow procedure, he limited the Detroit Tigers to two hits and struck out six over six innings, helping the A’s extend the 2012 American League Division Series.
3.48 Brett Anderson’s ERA for the Dodgers this season
After facing only one hitter in an ALDS rematch with the Tigers a year later, Anderson went 1-3 with a 2.91 ERA in one season with the Colorado Rockies before signing with the Dodgers in December.
So far, no complaints, and he has exceeded initial expectations. Besides taking a 7-7 record and 3.48 ERA into Friday’s start against the Houston Astros, Anderson hasn’t missed a start or even a bullpen session. He also leads the major leagues in ground ball percentage (67.1), and his innings (1342/3) and starts (23) are topped only by those during his career-best 2009 rookie season.
More sneaky-dominant than overpowering, and not nearly the strikeout threat he was early in his career, Anderson tries to keep the ball on the ground and out of the seats with command of a nasty slider, a mix of crafty curves and changeups, a fastball that occasionally hits 92-93 mph, and a sinker that he increasingly relies upon.
“Brett’s a guy who has gotten better as the year has gone along,” Mattingly said Wednesday. “It seemed early on, it was almost rehab on the mound, from a guy who hadn’t pitched in a couple years, wasn’t moving around as good as you’d like. But he’s getting off the mound better, his awareness of the game is good, and he just keeps throwing good outings.”
The fact Anderson is part of a staff that includes Kershaw and Greinke but also tries to squeeze every inning out of every starter to avoid the inevitable bullpen meltdown, doesn’t faze him, and perhaps even encourages him. He remembers his early success, and “knock on wood,” as articulated by catcher Yasmani Grandal, appreciates his sudden good health.
“It’s been a while,” Anderson said. “That (2012 ALDS against Detroit) was a memory I’ll always cherish. At the end of the year, I’ll look back at how many starts I made. Nobody puts more pressure on themselves than I do, so if I can live up to my own expectations, everyone else will be happy, too. For now, I’m riding the wave.”