LOS ANGELES Spring training had just begun when the Dodgers’ pitching coach, Mark Prior, made an eager nomination to fill the role of the team’s top left-handed relief pitcher: Alex Vescia.
The idea existed more on a wish, a prayer, and a scouting report than a reality. Vescia’s performances up to that point in his major league career were brief and overwhelming.
The 25-year-old from Spring Valley near San Diego had never bowled a pitch above Double-A before making his debut with the Miami Marlins in July 2020. In five major league games, he allowed 10 runs in 4–1/. 3 innings. Of the 27 batsmen he faced, fourteen reached base, including three home run-scorers.
This was the pitcher the Dodgers targeted in a curious February trade, when Miami sent Vesia and a low-level prospect to Los Angeles for Dylan Floro. Floro, a seasoned right-hander, is currently close to the Marlins.
Now Pryor’s prophecy is being proved. Since returning from Triple-A in July, Vescia has allowed a run from the bullpen in only three of his 26 appearances. His IRA is a dashing 2.52.
On Wednesday, manager Dave Roberts was asked to identify which reliever he would choose to face left-handed opponents in late-game, high-leverage situations. He chose Vesiya.
“If you look at the roster, Alex Vescia has emerged as someone who, I trust, brings out the left, brings out the right,” Roberts said. “He’s standing in big places.”
Using much of what Vessia did in a Marlins uniform last season to project his future performance comes with a big caveat: It really wasn’t him.
Vescia made her debut in Philadelphia on July 25. The next day he contracted COVID-19, which was part of a team-wide outbreak. His symptoms were mild, but his hotel stay was extended for 25 days as a precaution. During her quarantine period, Vessia said she did not throw, run or exercise.
“I came back and I was (throwing) like 90, 91, maybe 92 (mph),” Vescia said. “In (2019) I was 93-95. That’s where I felt I was at my best. This year it has gradually increased a bit.”
In a recent game against the San Diego Padres, Vescia hit Eric Hosmer with a four-seam fastball, thigh-high to the outside edge of home plate. At 97 mph, it was the fastest pitch ever thrown by Vesia in a major league game. He credits his jump in speed only to an entire season of working regularly on the mound – something he hasn’t taken for granted after his 2020 adventure.
Even more than his physical improvements, Vessia said that his mental outlook has allowed him to make the biggest leap in the past year.
“I was hard on myself,” he said. “I expected to compete, to put zero, to pass to the next guy… to win a ballgame. At some of those points, I was not doing it.”
Vesia’s Dodgers debut did not go well. He faced seven batsmen on May 1 in Milwaukee. Four go. Scored two runs. Within a week, he was back in Triple-A with an ERA of 9.00.
In Oklahoma City, Vescia was able to eliminate some of the variables that previously confused her. His presence was predetermined. He was allowed to pitch at the start of the innings, with no runners on base.
This empowered him to rely on the game plan the Dodgers presented him at spring training—a different analytical recipe, Vescia said, than the one he received from the Marlins.
“It was me and the catcher,” he said. “It was great to have that tunnel vision: it doesn’t matter if there’s a big crowd, if there’s a little crowd, which team, what batsman. If I execute my pitch, good things are going to happen.” .
For Vessia, the line from Pryor’s prediction of spring training to September was hardly a straight one. A short but strong cheer has followed it all the way.
Vesia is the Dodgers clubhouse leader in one category: Most fans greeted after each home game. This is an eclectic group of friends and family from Spring Valley, and friends who have transplanted from Cal State East Bay to Southern California, where Vescia attended college. He doesn’t take their presence lightly.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s not just about me. It’s about them too. They’ve been following me from day one.”
Dodgers (RHP Walker Buehler, 14-3, 2.32 ERA) at Cincinnati (RHP Luis Castillo, 7-15, 4.24 ERA), Friday, 4:10 pm, SportsNet LA, MLB Network, 570 AM