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Broxton heads up solid Dodgers bullpen

Broxton heads up solid Dodgers bullpen

LOS ANGELES -- A year ago at this time, the Dodgers had a question mark at the back of their bullpen. This October, they have an exclamation point.

But best of all, the Los Angeles relief corps doesn't start and finish with big Jonathan Broxton, who seized ninth-inning duties this season. It's a deep and potent corps, with pitchers for every occasion. If manager Joe Torre needs a lefty-killer, he has options. If he needs someone to get a key right-hander or two, he has options. If he needs a full inning, be it right- or left-handed-dominated, he's fine. And if he needs multiple innings, he has choices.

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Dodgers at a glance
2009 record: 95-67
2008 record: 84-78
NL West champs
NL best record
NLCS matchup:
Phillies at Dodgers
Postseason tix: Buy now

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Loney: Taking good swings
Kuo: Long road back
Thome: Back in Philly
Loney: Building resume
Bullpen: Led by Broxton
Torre: Rep precedes him
Blake: Chemistry guy
Kershaw: Game 1 nod?
Dodgers: Eyes on prize
Kemp: Path of the pros
Furcal: Back healthy
Kershaw: Like Koufax
Hudson: Keeping head up
Billingsley: Unknown role
Ethier: Slump over
Torre: Tough decisions
Kershaw: Elite comparisons
Kemp: Nearly elite
Kershaw: Path to the pros
Billingsley: Fate in balance
Ethier: Aims to improve
Torre: Back to playoffs
Kershaw: Ready to rock
Rotation: Plenty of options
Kemp: Chasing LA history
Bullpen: Dominant pair
Honeycutt: Pitching guru
Kemp: Tools to match talent
Ethier: Walk-off wonder
Billingsley: Vying for spot
Ethier/Kemp: Dynamic duo
Torre: Another pennant race
Pierre: Receives high praise
Kershaw: Beyond his years

A bit of a rough night for one reliever Thursday doesn't change the fact that the bullpen is one of the great strengths of the '09 Dodgers. The greatest strength of that unit, meanwhile, is Broxton, who pitched a shutout ninth Thursday to give his team one last shot at a comeback win. When Torre gets to the ninth, he turns to the man sometimes called the "Ox," the 6-foot-4, 240-pound, gas-throwing Broxton. He heads the best bullpen remaining in these playoffs.

"We've been picking up a lot of big innings, and we've just got to keep it going," Broxton said.

The Dodgers' three playoff wins so far have shown the versatility of the Broxton-led 'pen. In Game 1 of the Division Series, Torre moved quickly to relieve a scuffling Randy Wolf, using five relievers to get through the last 5 1/3 innings. In Game 2, he turned to righty-killer Ronald Belisario in the seventh, Broxton against the Cardinals' heavy-hitting right-handers in the eighth and George Sherrill in the ninth.

And in Saturday's clincher, he did it in classic style. Starter Vicente Padilla went seven innings, Sherrill set up in the eighth and Broxton brought it home by getting the last four outs. It's hard for Torre to make a misstep with a crew like this, and it will be hard for the Phillies to overcome any late-inning deficits.

"That's a big challenge. ... Their left-handed pitchers are big-stuff pitchers," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "They're very good. And then they've got Broxton at the end. Yeah, I mean, that's a concern. Basically once they get to those guys, that gives them a big, big chance."

It's the lefties that may be the biggest challenge for the Phillies. Manuel typically writes out a very heavily left-handed lineup, with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez in the heart of the order. With new acquisition Sherrill and Hong-Chih Kuo available for matchup duty, Torre has two serious weapons to counter the Phils' sluggers, though he hesitated to go to either one in the fifth inning Thursday.

Moreover, neither Sherrill nor Kuo is the typical lefty specialist, hopeless against right-handed hitters. Torre can use either man for a full inning, even if it means a right-handed batter or two coming to the plate.

If the Phillies' lefty stars come up in the ninth, though, it will be Broxton's job to get them out. The mix-and-match strategy that Torre used against St. Louis won't be in play against Philadelphia.

"I don't see their lineup makeup as needing to flip-flop them," Torre said.

Broxton certainly held his own against the teeth of the Phillies on Thursday. He got a flyout from leadoff man Jimmy Rollins, allowed a single to Shane Victorino and then got out of it against the two most dangerous Phillies, Utley and Howard. He has the stuff, the command and the demeanor to take on anyone.

Now the Dodgers just need to get him another lead to bring home.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["NLCS" ] }
{"content":["NLCS" ] }