It’s rehearsal week for the Dodgers.
And in a 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres on Thursday night, they witnessed some fascinating performances from players with roles yet to be determined.
Andrew Heaney shone in his first appearance outside the bullpen, throwing four scoreless innings as a mass reliever. A new-look bullpen with no designated closer delivered yet again, traveling together four more flawless innings in a series rubber match at Petco Park.
And perhaps the biggest joker of all, rookie outfielder Miguel Vargas produced the night’s biggest hit and reignited his trek to make the postseason list with a tied two-run single in the sixth inning.
“His name is certainly in the mix to create the postseason squad, absolutely,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Now the team has a week to make such decisions.
With everything but home field advantage in the World Series, the final stretch of the regular season for the Dodgers (108-48) will be something of a test run before finalizing their lineup for next month’s National League Division Series.
On Thursday, that meant using Heaney as a helper for the first time this year, bringing the left-hander out of the bullpen behind opener Brusdar Graterol in anticipation of a likely role change for the playoffs — when he’s likely to be squeezed out of the rotation behind Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw , Tyler Anderson and Tony Gonsolin.
“Andrew has been a starter his entire career, so it made a lot of sense to give him a little opportunity to get off the pen and see what that’s like, feel what that’s like,” Roberts said.
While Graterol was burdened with two runs after Trea Turner and Chris Taylor failed to field a two-out grounder by Brandon Drury in the first, Heaney looked good in a scoreless four-inning out.
He got into trouble in his first inning when faced with a base-full jam, but knocked out Manny Machado to pull the team back. From there, he retired nine of his last 10 batters to bring his ERA down to 2.88 and accumulated six strikeouts to surpass 100 punchouts in the season.
“I think probably how we’re going to play things out in the playoffs, I’m sure that was part of the acclimatization,” Heaney said, adding that he would be comfortable coming out of the bullpen in October, if it were necessary.
Vargas’ situation is far less clear.
The highly acclaimed prospect hasn’t played much since his call-up when squads were expanded in early September, amassing just 40 plate appearances in 12 games leading up to Thursday.
He was only included in the lineup for the series finale after Trayce Thompson was scratched late over a personal matter (Roberts said Thompson should be back on the team Friday).
But in the second inning, Vargas put the Dodgers on the board with a sacrificial fly. Then, in the sixth, just after Freddie Freeman equalized with an RBI single, the 22-year-old Cuban native came to the plate with loaded bases and two outs.
After falling 1-and-2 behind Padre’s reliever Pierce Johnson, Vargas fouled a fastball, took a low curveball, then got just enough on tap on another and centered a two-run single back in for his second and third to collect RBIs of the night, his most in a major league game this season.
“It was one of those bats that got me really focused,” Vargas said through an interpreter. “I really knew what I had to do.”
The same cannot be said for his path to a postseason roster spot.
While Vargas is still batting just a .195 in 13 games with the Dodgers, he’s amid September dips from Joey Gallo (five for his last 40), Cody Bellinger (seven for his last 40), and Thompson (six for his last 40) has become an increasingly attractive alternative in his last 40) outfield.
Utility infielder Hanser Alberto, who is three for his last 26, also didn’t run away for what would likely be bottom on the team’s roster.
Roberts acknowledged that it could be difficult for Vargas to topple one of the Dodgers’ more established big leagues in October, but also noted that his bat-to-ball ability could prove valuable when he comes off the bench comes — an ability that translated into a four-for-10 mark with six RBIs when Vargas batted with runners in goal position.
While Vargas knows the opportunity is out of his hands, he acknowledged he’s been thinking about it lately too.
“Of course,” he said. “I want to be there.”
At the moment he can only offer his best audition.
There are still many important decisions for the Dodgers in the final days of the regular season.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2022-09-29/dodgers-padres-miguel-vargas-andrew-heaney-mlb-recap Vargas, Heaney bolster October cases in Dodgers win over Padres