SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers could find bullpen help in minor leagues

With only hours remaining before the July 31 trade deadline, the Dodgers were still trying to improve their bullpen.

As usual, team President Andrew Friedman was sticking to his guns in refusing to trade the team’s top prospects for players that might only be rentals through October.

The Dodgers have been refusing to trade their top prospects for the last five years and look at the big-league roster today: Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Julio Urias, Walker Bueller and Alex Verdugo are all contributing.

Within two years, pitcher Dustin May and shortstop Gavin Lux will be contributing, too. The Pittsburgh Pirates wanted both May and Lux for closer Felipe Vazquez, the best relief pitcher on the market.

The Detroit Tigers wanted one or the other, plus additional prospects, for Shane Greene.

Friedman will trade prospects in deadline deals. He just won’t trade the team’s top prospects.

So I have a different direction for the Dodgers to take in their effort to win their first World Series in 31 years.

Strengthen the bullpen by bringing up May and Tony Gonsolin from Oklahoma City in September and let them audition for a post-season role.

It has worked in the past for the Dodgers, although maybe not the recent past.

In 1978, the Dodgers brought up a young hard-throwing pitcher named Bob Welch. He made 13 starts for the Dodgers during the season but was moved to the bullpen for the World Series. He earned a save with a memorable strikeout against Reggie Jackson, though the Dodgers lost the series in six games.

Two years later, the Dodgers promoted a young lefthander named Fernando Valenzuela from Double A San Antonio in September. Valenzuela came out of the bullpen 10 times, winning two games, allowing only two runs in 17 innings while striking out 16.

If Tommy Lasorda had started him instead of Dave Goltz in a playoff game with the Houston Astros, the Dodgers might have gone to the post-season that year.

Instead, Valenzuela became the opening-day starter the next season and Fernando Mania was born.

Anyone who follows the Dodgers knows they need bullpen help. Kenley Jansen has had the worst season of his career as a closer. Pedro Baez and Joe Kelly have been inconsistent as the set-up man for Jansen.

Yimi Garcia, Dylan Floro and the rest of the bullpen don’t scare many in the National League. They aren’t going to frighten the Red Sox and the Yankees come late October, if the Dodgers are still playing.

So let’s see what May and Gonsolin can do. Gonsolin gave us a little sample July 30, when he earned a four-inning save against the Colorado Rockies, giving most of the bullpen a night off in the process.

Gonsolin retired the first 11 batters he faced before giving up three straight hits that produced a run. He struck out three and didn’t walk anyone. He was shipped back to Oklahoma City the next day, but he will be back in September and so will May.

May was the Dodgers third round pick in the 2016 draft. In four minor league seasons, he has gone 24-17 with a 3.50 earned run average.

After a slow start at Double A Tulsa, he has gone 3-0 in five starts since being promoted to Oklahoma City.

He is expected to compete for a spot in the starting rotation next spring, but he could be useful coming out of the bullpen in September.

Gonsolin is another product of the Dodgers 2016 draft class, being selected in the ninth round out of St. Mary’s College.

In four minor league seasons, he is 19-14 with a 3.39 ERA.

The Dodgers have a set lineup and a deep starting rotation. Their recent defensive woes are a byproduct of teaching Pederson to play first base during the middle of the season and injuries to Chris Taylor and Kike Hernandez, which require Max Muncy to spend more time at second base then first base, where he is more steady.

In the post-season, the starting rotation will be Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and either Rich Hill or Urias as the fourth starter.

Kenta Maeda will return to the role he has served the last two post-seasons, coming out of the bullpen, as will Ross Stripling, who has bounced back and forth between the rotation and bullpen the past couple of years.

After winning 68% of their games in May and June, the Dodgers are only 13-10 in July, but they are the first team in the Major Leagues this season to win 70 games and continue to lead the National League West by 15 games.

It will take an epic fall to keep the Dodgers out of the playoffs and they remain the odds on favorite to represent the National League in the World Series for the third straight year.

If Friedman and manager Dave Roberts want, they can use September as an audition for the post-season bullpen. Figure out who the best seven pitchers you have in the bullpen and ride them in October.

And if May and Gonsolin can help, then let’s use them.

STAR POWER: The Los Angeles Clippers came to South Los Angeles last week to introduce their two new stars to Los Angeles. They made a grand entrance at the Green Meadows Recreation Center where the Clippers renovated the basketball courts for the community.

Owner Steve Ballmer was on hand to lead cheers for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

“You don’t think we can win some ball games this year with Paul and Kawhi on our team?” Ballmer bellowed with his typical exuberance.  

Ballmer hailed the duo, and said while the team will definitely win some games, “We need to win the last game played during the NBA season. That’s the game we’ve gotta win.”

Leonard, a 6-foot-7-inch, 28-year-old small forward, was born in Los Angeles and attended Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley, Martin Luther King High School in Riverside and San Diego State University. George, 29, was born in Palmdale and attended that city’s Knight High School before playing college ball at Fresno State.

“I’m extremely excited, extremely happy to be back home,” said George, who spent the past two seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

He noted that he was playing with the Indiana Pacers when the team drafted Leonard.

“It just seems like this was destined,” George said. “We [were] supposed to play together. So thank you.”

He added, “We going to make it happen. L.A. our way.”

Leonard, who was arguably the most coveted player during the NBA off- season, has twice been named most valuable player of the NBA Finals, including this year with the champion Toronto Raptors.

“I’m on my next journey,” Leonard said. “These guys, I think we’ve got a great future. Paul is always a player I wanted to play with.”

He also said he wonders what might have happened if both had remained in Indiana when he was drafted.

“But we’re here together in L.A., both Southern Cal guys,” he said. “Now we’re on the Clippers and it’s just, I think we’ve got something special. We can make history here. We’ve got the right team to do it. … I’m excited.”