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Dodgers confident Koehler will help fill bullpen void

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers are confident the free-agent acquisition of Tom Koehler will help fill a bullpen void left by Brandon Morrow's jump to the Chicago Cubs.

For Koehler, it's a move that represents a transition that began last season, first in Miami and then in Toronto. That's when the starter began to re-invent himself as a reliever. More important, perhaps, that's also when the right-hander showed that maybe he had the ability to complete the move. Call it a career change-up.

Koehler, a starter with mixed results from 2014 through 2016 with the Marlins, is as confident as the Dodgers are about his chances at succeeding in the bullpen. For him and the club, it's about fit and philosophy.

The Dodgers was known last year for its versatility late in the season and throughout the National League playoffs before a melting down against Houston in the seven-game World Series.

"They have a blueprint," said Koehler, who signed a one-year contract with the Dodgers on Dec. 20. "They've been successful with it. Coming here was an easy sell. You have to come around and realize that maybe the starting days are behind you. You have to accept that. Above all, I just want to win."

In Koehler, the Dodgers see the potential to do what Kenta Maeda did within one season last year. Maeda almost made the transition from starter to reliever look easy. As spring training begins at Camelback Ranch and Yu Darvish with Morrow on the Cubs roster, Maeda is again pegged to start.

"For us, Koehler is a guy who has long been on our radar as a reliever conversion candidate," said Dodgers President-of-Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, who also moved to shore up the bullpen by acquiring left-hander Scott Alexander from Kansas City in a three-team trade on Jane. 4. "He's got a really good curve ball.

"If you look at his stuff and make some small tweaks here and there, and he's going in shorter bursts, there is real upside."

The promise began to mount after the Marlins traded Koehler to the Blue Jay on August 17. Koehler, a 96-game start with a 3.81 ERA for Miami from 2014 through 2016, was 1-5 with 7.92 ERA when the Marlins shipped him to Toronto in 2017. He made on start for the Blue Jays, allowing one run, and striking out seven over five innings in a 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay on August 24.

Next stop: The bullpen. Koehler delivered 14 appearances. He finished the Toronto part of his 2017 season with 2.65 ERA, including 18 strikeouts over 17 innings of work. The numbers say he was effective enough to be a solid reliever.

"I've watched guys come here, guys who have been successful starters in the major leagues, then make the transition and become successful relievers," Koehler said. "I'm not going to say I'm going to do what those guys did. Time will tell.

But they have a plan that has worked and they feel that I fit into that very well."

Game notes

Still no official word Thursday on whether veteran infielder Chase Utley has signed, but cleats, mail an uniform and mail are waiting for him in a clubhouse dressing stall. "Cleats are in his locker," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "I assume we'll see (No.) 26) here soon." Outfielder Yasiel Puig has been in camp for a couple of days. Sunday is the reporting date for position players, who are scheduled for their first formal practice at Camelback Ranch on Monday.
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