It was Brian Wilson pretty much all season, for better or worse. Mostly worse. Wilson ended the regular season with a 4.66 ERA, but he was the Dodgers’ eighth-inning guy the whole way through (at least in some combination with J.P. Howell), collecting 22 holds as Kenley Jansen’s setup man.
In the postseason, Don Mattingly suddenly abandoned that plan. Pedro Baez relieved Clayton Kershaw with the Dodgers down 7-6 in Game 1 of the NLDS, and Wilson wasn’t among four relievers used in what turned out to be a 10-9 loss.
Wilson also went unused in Game 2, which the Dodgers led 2-0 after seven innings. Howell relieved Zack Greinke with lefties due up in the eighth, but he didn’t get an out before allowing a game-tying homer. Brandon League, not Wilson, took over from there in a 2-2 game in the eighth. Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth in the 3-2 win.
In Game 3, Mattingly turned to Scott Elbert in the seventh in a 1-1 game. He gave up a two-run homer to Kolten Wong before being lifted. League finished the seventh. Wilson came in down 3-1 in the eighth, allowed two out of three batters to reach and was replaced by Howell. The Dodgers went on to lose by the same score.
At this point, Mattingly simply has no idea how best to get to Jansen in the ninth inning. His hope for Games 4 and 5 has to be that his starters go eight innings, though that will be a lot to ask from Clayton Kershaw on three days’ rest. Mattingly has tried Baez, a hard-throwing rookie who has spent most of his pro career as a third baseman, as his bridge to his closer. He’s tried Howell. On Monday, he went to Elbert, who pitched 4 1/3 innings in the majors this season and was the last pitcher included on the postseason roster. Mattingly is winging in, and nothing has worked as hoped so far.
What Mattingly hasn’t done is try to stretch Jansen beyond one inning. That might need to change on Tuesday. If the Dodgers take a narrow lead into the eighth, Mattingly’s best bet is to ask Jansen to go two innings. The closer will have Wednesday off anyway.